18 April 2005


From Jal Khambata

NEW DELHI: In a clear snub to the Kashmir hardliners objecting to Pakistan's tango with India through the confidence building measures (CBM), President Pervez Musharraf on Monday said he would go by what the majority wants and "if vast majority accepts, it is OK."

Talking to the Indian editors over a breakfast meeting with the Editors' Guild of India, General Musharraf said it is difficult to address and satisfy all sections of society when asked about the Hurriyat hardliners opposed to Pakistan trying to push back the Kashmir issue while dealing with India.

"There will be always opposition, extreme opposition and even militant opposition. We would not bother if the large majority is on the board," Musharraf affirmed at the breakfast meeting organised at Hotel Taj Mansingh where he stayed for three days.

He ruled out the military option to resolve the Kashmir dispute, which was seen as a clear message from the general to his military not to engage in any misadventure of the military action in Jammu and Kashmir. It was also seen as a hint to the Indian Government that its vast military troops in Jammu and Kashmir were no solution to the problem.

The General warned that the problem of Kashmir should be resolved now or else it can erupt again and the solution should be acceptable to India, Pakistn and Kashmiris. "Unless we resolve the dispute it can erupt again under a future frame....It is the Kashmir dispute which needs to be analysed for a solution that is acceptable to all three," he said.

Talking to the two factions of the Hurriyat Conference and other Kashmiri separatist leaders in separate meetings here on Sunday, Musharraf had sought to re-assure them that Pakistan would never betray the Kashmiri people and continue to provide moral, diplomatic and political support to their just cause. He, however, asked them to close ranks and unite if they want to remain relevant as representatives of the Kashmiris, indicating his impression that the majority of people in Jammu and Kashmir are not with them.

Pointing out that if the Kashmir problem is not resolved now, Musharraf said, at the interaction with the editors, that he does not know what would happen in the next 10-15 years. "Muze pata nahi das-pandrah saal me kya ho jayega." He said the problem can not be resolved overnight and suggested that it should be tackled in three stages.

The foremost urgency, in his view, is to decide "what kind of final solution we are heading for" and then proceed to develop a consensus "involving people of Kashmir." The second stage would be to generate public debate and public support. The final solution will come in the third stage. This is what, Musharraf said, is the "forward movement" to which both India and Pakistan are seriously committed.

He said there are different issues involved like independence, self-governance, autonomy, joint control and joint management and there is need to analyse what should be done in these different areas to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Asked to comment on Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh making it clear that the borders between the two countries cannot be altered as a solution to the Kashmir issue, Musharraf snapped back: "Yes boundaries cannot be altered." He said "LoC (line of control) also cannot be accepted as the final solution." Yet another proposition is to act when "boundaries become irrelevant." These three points have to be kept in mind while discussing the solution, he said.

In reply to a question on why India and Pakistan do not abolish the visa requirement itself if the governments of both wanted more and more people's contact, Musharraf said he would also like that to happen but he cannot lay down the time limit for achievin that.

He was quite frank in pointing out that he has still not be able to generate enough confidence of the people back home to accept the way he is trying to resolve the differences between the two countries.

Musharraf, however, described his present trip to Delhi as the most fruitful in the sense that he hopes that "it will generate a reasonable amount of confidence in people of Pakistan" that his government is committed and doing its best to resolve the disputes with India.