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The Rediff Interview/Pakistan High Commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan

April 06, 2005

His manners are impeccable, almost nawabi.

Aziz Ahmed Khan was a spokesman for the foreign office in Islamabad before being named Pakistan's high commissioner to India in June 2003.

A career diplomat, Khan is not new to India, having worked in New Delhi as deputy high commissioner between 1985 to 1987, when his 'moderate' views on critical issues of Pakistan's foreign policy won him a lot of friends. Though affable and warm, like most professional diplomats, Khan is polite and firm in presenting his government's point of view.

In a rare and exclusive interview on the eve of the inauguration of the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus service, the amiable and erudite high commissioner discussed the peace process and other issues with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt.

How do you see India-Pakistan relations? Is the concept of the 'enemy country' slowly vanishing from both nations?

Well, you start having the concept of enemy country only because you have problems, problems that automatically give rise to a bad relationship. The best thing is to try and resolve those problems.

Now the two countries have embarked on the dialogue process and the composite dialogue where all outstanding issues between the two countries are being discussed, particularly the most important issue of Jammu and Kashmir [Images]. Because that really is the dispute the two countries have, all others are minor irritants compared to the main complex problem of Kashmir.

This time around, these issues are being seriously addressed. The first round of the composite dialogue has been completed. The second round has started. The two foreign secretaries have met for the second round to discuss the issue of peace and security. J &K was the other issue.

Six other meetings will be scheduled between April and June. It will be reviewed at a foreign ministers meeting. We feel subjects are being addressed seriously. We feel both sides are seriously committed. We know for sure from our side that we are very sincerely and seriously committed to a dialogue process. The leadership of Pakistan has said it on several occasions. General Pervez Musharraf [Images] has said it. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has said it.

Similarly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] has repeatedly said he is sincerely committed to the dialogue process. So there is every reason to be hopeful this time around that we are moving forward and we will be able to resolve all the issues.

Do you see a change within the people, inside the country?

Enemy is a strong word. I think people feel a lack of trust. As Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said, there is a trust deficit between two countries. In the last cricket series, we saw that people are very enthusiastic about having friendly relations. That will be possible only when problems are resolved. When people see that yes, a direction has been taken, they respond enthusiastically. People are moving the relationship.

Do you agree that the current peace process started when then prime minister Vajpayee extended a hand of friendship during his April 2003 visit to Kashmir?

The present peace process, okay, you can a put date to. As far as Pakistan is concerned we extended a hand of friendship much before in Nepal. President Musharraf walked across and shook Mr Vajpayee's hand. India did not respond then. We said alright, we should have patience. We should continue in our effort to impress upon India that the only way left, the only correct course we can follow is through a dialogue. You recall at that time about a million Indian troops were amassed on the borders, they were in eyeball to eyeball position. We didn't like that.

I was spokesman at that time in Pakistan. On so many occasions we continued to appeal that this is not all. We should withdraw our positions and sit across the table and start the dialogue process. So as far as we are concerned we had extended our hand of friendship much earlier. But when Mr Vajpayee finally did extend a hand in Srinagar [Images] we accepted it promptly and we welcomed it. Then he visited Islamabad to attend the SAARC summit and a joint declaration was issued. Thereafter, the peace process started.

SAARC Summit 2004: Complete Coverage

Does Pakistan accept that the Indian people will never permit a political leader who concedes any territorial adjustments in Jammu and Kashmir? Is Pakistan aware of this bottom line?

As far as Pakistan is concerned Kashmir is a disputed territory. It is recognised internationally as a disputed territory. It is a problem at the UN as well. So the fundamental nature of that area is of a disputed territory. We have to find a solution.

What can that solution possibly be? Now one solution which was proposed a long time ago was the UN resolution, which was accepted by India and Pakistan, to hold a plebiscite. That means Kashmir was accepted as a disputed country by both countries. The disagreements on certain details took place later, over how and when it should be conducted. But the basic thing remains -- it is a dispute and it should be resolved.

Catch up on history, Mr Aziz

We do realise there are certain reservations to follow that course of action in India. Alright, there are reservations. There is a problem. The best way is to sit down and discuss how we can find a solution. Let us not presume what can be a solution. What are we going to discuss if you already declare that this is not possible and that is not possible?

A solution is possible if there is goodwill on both sides. And we know that no solution is possible which is not acceptable either to India or to Pakistan or to the Kashmiris. Let us not jump to conclusions.

President Musharraf had said he would not insist on the UN resolution while finding a solution.

What he has said is about the known positions of both countries. Our position is that the UN resolution should be implemented. India's position is that it (Kashmir) is an integral part of India. Let us set aside both these conditions. You stop saying this and sit across the table and discuss different possibilities. He was saying if you set aside your condition we can sat aside our position. We are stuck on our position for more than 50 years.

Beware of Vajpayee's peace moves!

Is the Chenab formula in President Musharraf's mind?

I don't want to go into speculative answers. There are many possibilities and many solutions. Let us sit down on the table to discuss.

The Neelam Plan

A recently published book says the Kashmir dispute is all about water, because Pakistan is an agrarian society.

It is the issue of the rights of the Kashmiri people. As far as water is concerned we have signed the Indus water treaty which is working fine, so far there is no issue about it.

Looking back at the past five years, what has changed in both countries?

'We are walking into the American trap'

The world is shrinking. The technology revolution has changed the world completely. The world has become a global village. People have realised the best way to live is to have good neighbourly relations. The economy is the driving force.

Is this what the average Pakistani thinks?

Do you have any reason to doubt it? Everybody in Pakistan thinks that we should not waste our resources in confrontation. We should channelise our resources. India has done well tremendously economically but you have huge pockets of poverty and we have poor people in Pakistan. They want a better life. They want safe water, two meals a day and basic education.

Don't miss the second part of this interview with the Pakistan high commissioner tomorrow!

Also read: After the Lahore Summit: The Real Story

Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

Image: Uday Kuckian

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