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The Rediff Special/BS Correspondent in New Delhi
Ice melts: India, Pak talk of shared future
April 19, 2005
President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opened up tantalising possibilities of Indo-Pak entente at the end of two days of summit talks. Manmohan Singh called it a 'productive' visit with 'very positive results.'
Musharraf said the outcome exceeded all his expectations, including on the thorny Kashmir issue. All the atmospherics and body language suggested a new, less conflict-ridden and less distrustful phase in bilateral relations. "Naya dil laya hoon" (I have come with a new heart), Musharraf told assembled editors over breakfast.
The joint statement issued by the two leaders was terse, but said enough to convey the central message. It said the peace process was now irreversible, condemned the attempts to disrupt the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service and pledged to not allow terrorism to impede the peace process.
It dwelt on new bus and rail routes, re-opening of closed consulates and meetings of the moribund joint economic commission and joint business council.
And it promised further progress on gas pipelines and settling the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes. On Kashmir, the leaders agreed to keep talking purposefully and sincerely.
But much more was forthcoming from the two leaders' comments at media meetings organised through the Editors Guild of India. Musharraf accepted the Manmohan Singh position that territory could not change hands, and said the Indian prime minister had accepted in turn that the Line of Control could not be a 'final solution'.
He said soft borders could help settle the issue, and an arrangement could be worked out where boundaries become irrelevant-echoing Singh's position.
He threw up suggestions like self-governance, autonomy and joint management, and asked the media to debate the issue and find a solution.
Musharraf added that a referendum was not necessary to find out the views of the people. And he accepted that no rigid time frame could be set for resolving a knotty problem, but also it could not be put off indefinitely.
Manmohan Singh in turn echoed the general's comments and said the atmosphere of the talks was highly congenial. "I enjoyed talking to him, I found a commonality of ideas and ideals."
He agreed that there was no 'simple royal road' to success, and everything could not be solved in one visit, but the two sides had evolved a certain amount of commonality and the vision of a shared future.
Singh said that Musharraf was 'frank, sincere, forward-looking, forthright' and willing to bury the past; he was a man India could do business with. Singh said his goal was to work step by step so that it did not eventually matter whether someone lived in Srinagar or Muzaffarabad.
On trade issues, Musharraf argued that though India had given Pakistan 'most favoured nation' status, many tariff and non-tariff barriers were impeding Pakistani exports to India and bilateral trade therefore was unbalanced. Singh told editors that he had not realised this and had asked the commerce minister to look into the issue.
Asked what had brought about his change of heart, Musharraf said the world had changed after 9/11, terrorism had emerged as the main malaise of the world, and the issues now were not geo-politics but economics and trade.
He said the 10 months of military standoff in 2002 had led to the domestic realisation that a military solution was not an option, nor was coercive diplomacy. He said 'we can't go at a tangent with the world, that is the realisation." He also said the attitude of the Indian leadership "counts a lot".
Singh in turn set at rest Pakistani fears about India exploiting its upper riparian status, and said India was duty-bound to honour the Indus water treaty in letter and spirit.
He added that the time may have come to look at the whole Indus water system, but this did not figure in the discussion and the Baglihar dispute (which Pakistan has taken to the World Bank) does not figure in the joint statement.
Singh said that elements in both countries could act recklessly and affect the government's ability to carry public opinion along. Musharraf said that whereas both sides were making compromises, the larger partner in the dialogue should be more magnanimous as otherwise his concessions would be seen as a sign of weakness.
Who Got What
Making sense of the joint statement signed by General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday.
- No reference to cross-border infiltration.
- A reference to a 'final settlement' of the Kashmir issue. This is the first time 'final settlement' has been used
- No compromise on Baglihar
- No reference to the Indian PM's stand that boundaries cannot be re-drawn
- No mention of transit rights for India through Pakistan, a key demand of the Indians for access to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the markets of Central Asia