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The Rediff Interview/Pak Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed
November 12, 2003
Pakistani Information and Broadcasting Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who was in New Delhi to attend the SAARC [South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation] information ministers conference, denied that Pakistan has not responded adequately to the confidence building measures announced by the Vajpayee government.
In an interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh at Hotel Ashok in New Delhi, Ahmed said that there was a lot of admiration in Pakistani political circles for Prime Minister Vajpayee. He also revealed that it was difficult to visualise any other leader in the Indian polity who would take such a bold stance to resolve the Indo-Pakistan issue.
You say that after Vajpayee there is no hope. Are you paying a compliment to Vajpayee as prime minister or expressing your pessimism?
I said so because this is what I see happening. I am political worker. I have been a member of parliament for the seventh time and federal minister for the fifth time. I say that after Vajpayee there is no hope because we in Pakistan have a lot of respect for the prime minister of India. He enjoys tremendous respect amongst the Pakistani political community, especially President Pervez Musharraf. President Musharraf and Prime Minister Jamali both feel that Prime Minister Vajpayee is a man of great vision. He has the courage to take a bold decision. After that I see no one.
You say Vajpayee is the man of the moment but when his government announces some confidence building measures Pakistan hardly responds. Is this how you respect Vajpayeeji?
I do not agree with your views. We have responded very positively to all the moves made by him. Out of the 12 suggestions made by the Government of India, we have accepted many points and have also given our suggestion. So we would have to wait and see.
Vajpayeeji has said that if SAARC does not make progress India has other options open. Comment?
Pakistan has never been an impediment to progress in the SAARC talks. We would like SAARC to become a forum for improvement of relations between India and Pakistan. We have suggested that Iran and China should also be made members of SAARC. We have raised this issue but so far we have got no response.
Do you see anything emerging out of the SAARC heads of state meeting to be held in Islamabad in January next year, particularly on Indo-Pak relations?
Well we can hope that the summit level meeting would bring India and Pakistan closer. We always hope for that.
There is a proposal to allow free movement of journalists. What is your stand on this issue?
This is one of the issues before the conference. It has not been decided as to what should be done about it. There is such a proposal but we have to get the concurrence of our foreign office and interior ministry.
Do you support this proposal?
We are all for this. Media persons should be allowed to move in freely from one country to another. But when we come to reality things are a bit different. Seven senior journalists from our top newspapers including Jung and Dawn were denied visas by the Indian mission in Pakistan. We say things but do not implement them and this is regrettable and not good. We want to cooperate but whatever happens must be done on a reciprocal basis.
When is Pakistan going to lift curbs on Indian television channels?
These issues would become irrelevant because both India and Pakistan are going to have Direct to Home (DTH) telecast facilities. We have also given a go ahead to two private channels. Once this technology comes into operation everything would be beamed directly in your homes.
Some Indian singers feel that they are not allowed to perform in Pakistan whereas Pakistani singers come and make money in India. Why?
It depends who these singers are who have not been allowed to perform in Pakistan. Could you give any example?
Lata Mangeshkar for instance?
We have great respect for Lata Mangeshkar and she is welcome to come and perform in Pakistan. I am using this forum to invite her to Pakistan. She has her own standing in the world of Indian music. She is welcome.
Why a restriction on other singers?
The problem is that some of the new generation of singers demand whopping sums to perform in Pakistan. We have invited some Indian singers to come and perform in Pakistan. Those who ask for a reasonable amount are invited. Those who ask big money do face problems that I admit.
Any name that you would like to give?
We have called Punjabi pop singer Sukhbir. Others who want to come and hold their shows are also welcome.
Did you bring any message on behalf of your government for Prime Minister Vajpayee?
I have brought a short and sweet message on behalf of President Musharraf and Prime Minister Jamali that they are eagerly looking forward to his visit to Pakistan early next year.
Photograph: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images, Design: Dominic Xavier