India, Pak give a push to peace process

India, Pak give a push to peace process
* LoC can’t be final border: Pervez
* PM rubs in Pak commitment to end terror
By H.K. Dua

New Delhi, April 18
Changed circumstances and a personal rapport that came to be seen during the last three days in Delhi have clearly helped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf give a push to the peace process they have chosen to embark on. Unlike what happened at Agra four years ago where General Musharraf walked out of the talks in a huff, he left Delhi today happy at the outcome.

“We have achieved more than I had expected”, he told senior editors at a breakfast meeting, adding that “sky is the limit” for carrying the process forward. “I enjoyed talks with President Musharraf which certainly mark a forward movement”, said Dr Manmohan Singh.

It is not that either of the two leaders changed their basic positions on major issues – which for India remains terrorism and for Pakistan, the Kashmir issue. Yet, the two leaders chose to look ahead and reconstruct subcontinental relationships by resolving issues in a spirit of reconciliation, instead of conflict.

“These are not the days of conflict management, but conflict resolution”, said President Musharraf. “We can resolve all issues in a spirit of reconciliation”, Dr Manmohan Singh later told the editors sounding more hopeful than ever before about peace in the subcontinent in our lifetime.

Neither of the two leaders was being starry-eyed, however. Dr Manmohan Singh had his way by rubbing in the commitment President Musharraf made in the January 2004 joint statement that Pakistan would take all steps to combat terrorism and also that terrorism will not be allowed “to impede the peace process.”

On his part, President Musharraf succeeded in reminding India that the pursuit of peace and confidence-building measures should not lead to pushing the Kashmir issue under the carpet.

Significantly, he did not insist on a time-frame for a solution of the Kashmir dispute – which, he continues to believe, is a core issue — but stressed it should be seriously discussed and sorted out in “reasonable time”.

President Musharraf, however, ruled out the use of military means or coercive diplomacy to resolve the Kashmir or any other dispute facing the two countries.

The Pakistan President was reminded that the Indian Prime Minister had made it known that India would not accept any change of borders or another division of Kashmir, but was ready to discuss any other option the General may choose to come forward with.

President Musharraf did not give any indication that he had a solution in mind, but stated categorically that the Line of Control could not be accepted as a final border, adding that the “Prime Minister also accepts this view”.

He said the propositions floating around — that the LoC cannot be permanent, the borders must be made irrelevant and they cannot be altered – can all be taken together to work out some out of box solution. He wouldn’t give any preference except to make it clear that the LoC could not be a permanent border.

Dr Manmohan Singh said he was not shirking a discussion on Jammu and Kashmir, but pointed out that a solution of Kashmir was a process that would take time to throw up a solution. And also, it was not known what kind of solution would ultimately emerge. The nature of the end-product could not be thought of with certainty.

In his view, the two countries could meanwhile go on improving contacts between the people on both sides of the divide, step up trade and allow the flow of ideas across the border. It should not matter if a person belonged to Srinagar or to Muzzaffarabad if tensions had been eased.

This is clearly in line with his philosophy that borders can be softened, perhaps made irrelevant over a period of time. This is being slowly, although with some hesitation, being accepted by Pakistan, with the proviso that such a process should not unduly delay the settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

“Unless Kashmir was resolved it could erupt in future under a different leadership and a different environment”, he said to stress that there were risks in not taking Pakistan’s plea for an early Kashmir settlement seriously.

It was a different General Musharraf than was seen at the Agra summit that ended in a fiasco four years ago.

“At that time anger, acrimony and hatred marked the relations between the two countries. Now it is harmony, friendship and hope for peace guiding us, he said.

“Main Naya Dil Laya Hoon”, he said, turning around a Hindi film song “Phir Wahi Dil Laya Hoon”. “I would certainly be positive in pursuing the peace process.”

President Musharraf couldn’t have left Delhi without a feeling that Dr Manmohan Singh was not earnest in dealing with him and resolving bilateral problems. “We can work together for peace”, said Dr Manmohan Singh.