Shaukat Aziz doesn’t relish cherry-picking

Shaukat Aziz doesn’t relish cherry-picking
H. K. Dua

New Delhi, November 24
One got an idea of Mr Shaukat Aziz’s preferences today: He simply does not like “cherry-picking”. The Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, however, likes one fruit — Kashmir.

Left to him, he would like to have it served to him early, may be after a few rounds, but not too many.

He spent two hours with senior journalists over breakfast here and talked about how important it was for India and Pakistan to work towards sustainable peace. He was suave, relaxed and at ease with his audience.

Mr Aziz is a man from the corporate sector and it was plain that he has lately been learning a thing or two of how to sell Pakistan’s case. There was no bluster in his language, no swagger; he did not try to play to the gallery.

In his patient, but persistent sales promotion, “no cherry-picking” theme kept coming up again and again. But as the interaction made headway, he did his own “cherry-picking”, although he was too choosey.

He was meeting the media before his talks with Dr Manmohan Singh. Apparently, he was sending across the signal that Indian emphasis for progress on a wide-range of confidence building measures cannot carry the peace process very far and that there had to be tangible progress on resolving the Kashmir dispute. Also, the progress on Kashmir had to be in tandem with confidence building in other areas.

Mr Aziz did not see the validity of Indian reservations on Pakistan favouring a role for the APHC, some of whose leaders had a meeting with him over dinner hosted by Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Delhi last night. Wishes of everyone in Jammu and Kashmir could be heard; but the APHC is important. It was an organised body which could not be ignored.

Mr Aziz again and again sought to allay doubts among Pakistan critics who thought that it might not survive as a nation-state. “It is neither a fragile state, nor a failed state”, he said.

It had achieved a 6.5 per cent economic growth rate and was aiming at over 8 per cent. It had achieved considerable economic progress and had already said goodbye to the International Monetary Fund.

He refuted the suggestion that despite its economic progress lately, Pakistan was not in a position to take care of its political sovereignty.

Mr Aziz didn’t brush aside the importance of people-to-people contacts, but like President Musharraf he made it more than clear that the conversion of the Line of Control as international border was not acceptable to Pakistan.

The economist in him asserted at times. He pointed out how cooperation in various fields — energy resources, for instance — could help both nations.

“Why not give Most Favoured Nation status to India in trade?” He categorically linked progress on this question with progress on the Kashmir question.

He indicated no change in Pakistan’s stand on major issues. He, however, did not rub in President Musharraf’s recent “food for thought” remarks envisaging the division of Jammu and Kashmir into seven regions, their demilitarisation and conferring on them autonomous status or placing them under a condominium, or joint control of India and Pakistan or of the United Nations.

He said Pakistan was open to examining any ideas for resolving the Kashmir question, but there had to be tangible progress on Kashmir. The way to address it was a serious dialogue aimed at an early resolution.

He wouldn’t pick up a senior editor’s suggestion that India and Pakistan should go on improving relations in several spheres which over a period of time would create a congenial atmosphere for resolving the more difficult question of Kashmir — a model which India and China had followed. “There can’t be progress on some issues and Kashmir remaining untackled on the backburner”, Mr Aziz said. “Cherry-picking will not do”, he said again.