January 21, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Ashraf Jehangir Qazi

'Pakistan cannot be expected to alter its principled stand on J&K'

Pakistan's High Commissioner for India Ashraf Jehangir Qazi believes no ambassador or high commissioner can stay at his post if the host government wishes otherwise, and maintains that diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan have not been downgraded. He tells Shahid K Abbas that General Pervez Musharraf has opened a window of opportunity for better bilateral relations and both countries should not let this opportunity pass. Excerpts:

India has turned down General Musharraf's open call to the United States to intervene in the Kashmir valley and has also expressed discontent over the refusal to hand over Pakistani nationals suspected of terrorism against India. How do you look at the possibility of normalising relations between the neighbours?

I believe you are underestimating the positive response to the president's address of January 12. Even India has welcomed it. Our position on the advantages of third-party facilitation or mediation in the event bilateral discussions run into difficulties is well known. It is actually consistent with Article 51 of the Indian Constitution. We have undertaken to take appropriate action in accordance with our laws against any individual found on our territory, provided there is credible evidence in support of charges against him.

General Musharraf's speech in most circles is being regarded as a milestone, which marks the first major U-turn since General Zia-ul-Haq. India has asserted that 'karni aur kathni mein antar hai' -- there is a difference between words and deeds -- and that for one positive step Pakistan takes, India will take two. How do you respond?

Well, for one there is no U-turn involved. Pakistan is implementing a comprehensive domestic policy against extremism and violence of any kind, whether it be religious, political, ethnic, sectarian or whatever. This is in accordance with our longstanding policy, which predates recent developments. Since the policy is designed to cleanse our society of violence and extremism of all kinds you can rest assured that it will be implemented because it is in our own national interest to do so.

This is not a policy that is designed to please or displease India, although at one point in his speech the president directly addressed the prime minister of India on the need to peacefully negotiate a solution to the Kashmir dispute on the basis of the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. We are gratified that the general Indian reaction has been positive and the Indian external affairs minister has said his country will reciprocate our initiative.

A section of the media has felt that President Musharraf was addressing a domestic audience. Yet another section feels that the speech was aimed at appeasing international opinion. How far do these observations meet your views?

The president was naturally first and foremost addressing the people of Pakistan. But Pakistan is a frontline member of the coalition against global terrorism and in recent weeks there has been a considerable buildup of tension between India and Pakistan. So the president was also aware of the international and Indian interest in what he had to say.

I do not think anybody could have reasonably expected Pakistan to alter its principled stand on Jammu & Kashmir, not even India, which has a very different point of view on this issue. There is no question of appeasing anybody.

India has also asked Pakistan to ban other terrorist groups and their parent organisations that are targeting India. Apparently such a response from Pakistan would pave the way for resumption of dialogue between the two countries. What do you think? Can you elaborately explain your point of view?

The only sure way to resolve deep-rooted and longstanding differences, which exist, is through patient and sustained negotiations that are based on a sincerity of commitment to developing friendly relations. You do not ask one side or the other to change its position as a condition for negotiations to begin. What you need, of course, is a climate of opinion that is conducive to sustained and productive negotiations.

While announcing his comprehensive policy against extremism, violence and terrorism and refusing to accept them as part of the freedom struggle in Jammu & Kashmir, the president has addressed one of India's expressed concerns. The question now is, how will India respond? Pakistan also has a number of concerns and it is hoped that India will address them and an effective and uninterrupted negotiating process can get underway as soon as possible.

India has ruled out US or any third-nation (party) involvement in the Kashmir issue and has said, quoting UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, that the UN resolutions are no longer relevant and that the Kashmir issue can only be sorted out bilaterally between India and Pakistan. Do you now see any solution to the longstanding issue while both parties refuse to budge an inch?

I have already referred to the question of third-party mediation. As for the UN resolutions they cannot become irrelevant and the UN secretary general has not said so. He referred to the distinction between resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council under Chapter 6 and Chapter 7. Under Chapter 7 they are enforceable by the Security Council in the event of non-compliance. Under Chapter 6 they are not automatically enforceable. But in either case they are equally legally binding. Even under Chapter 6, in the event of non-compliance, there are provisions of the UN Charter under which the UN secretary general can take specified actions for implementation of the resolution.

The UN Security Council resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir, accordingly, cannot become irrelevant or obsolete merely because one party to the dispute reneges on its commitment to implement them. They may appear unimplementable, but that is only because one side has chosen to go back on its obligation, which is unfortunate and somewhat strange if that side also wishes to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

As to what might happen in future I am not pessimistic. Negotiations imply a willingness by both sides to move towards a negotiated settlement. So even if they start with the two sides adhering to mutually exclusive positions the prospect of movement in negotiating positions must be inherent in the decision to enter into negotiations.

The challenge before us is to create a climate in which this can happen. The president of Pakistan has not merely extended his hand in friendship to the Indian prime minister, but he has now taken actions that lend substance to his word and gesture. We are confident that the Indian prime minister will respond as he indicated in his New Year's address to the Indian people.

Sir, while you are here the Indian government is dealing with your deputy. How do you reconcile to this?

No ambassador or high commissioner can stay at his post if the host government wishes otherwise. The Indian government has not done so. My government is not required to recall me just because the Indian high commissioner has been temporarily recalled. Our diplomatic relations have not been downgraded. Moreover, my government believes [that] in times of difficulty it is even more important to keep the channels of communication open.

If I felt I was redundant or an unwanted presence, I would request my government to immediately recall me. This is, hopefully, a passing phase. I believe the president of Pakistan has courageously opened up a window of opportunity for our bilateral relations to get on a new track and I am confident that India will respond positively to this opportunity. Both of us have so much to gain if this happens. We cannot let this opportunity pass.

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