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India must trust me, says Gen. Musharraf

By Malini Parthasarathy

ISLAMABAD, JAN. 16. General Pervez Musharraf, Chief Executive of Pakistan's military-led Government, has said that India's attitude of questioning the legitimacy of his regime and its consequent reticence to engage him diplomatically, is not in the interest of progress in bilateral relations. Pakistan's new military ruler, in an exclusive interview to The Hindu, the first ever given to an Indian newspaper since he took power last October, pointed out that other countries were now ``coming around'' and had understood the compulsions of Pakistan's internal situation. ``Therefore, I would request now that Indians, in the interest of peace, if they carry on thinking that this Government is not legitimate when the whole of Pakistan are with us, 130 million people are with us...I don't know what to say..we won't progress anywhere.. the reality of the situation must be understood.'' While affirming that he was for peace in the region, he also specifically said that India should take him ``at face value'' and that ``they have to trust me and that whatever I am saying, I mean, and they have to come along.''

General Musharraf, who spoke to this newspaper for about 55 minutes last Saturday morning at his office in Islamabad, made clear that contrary to the perceptions of him as a hardliner and nay-sayer on peace initiatives, he was in favour of bilateral talks, provided the core issue of Kashmir was specifically addressed. ``We have been trying all kinds of bus diplomacy and cricket diplomacy and everything. Why has all of it failed? It has failed because the core issue was not being addressed...because there is only one dispute, the Kashmir dispute...others are just aberrations, minor differences of opinion which can be resolved.'' He said that India must accept that Kashmir was a dispute. ``Let them accept that we need to resolve it. And we should start talking.'' He also refuted the impression created by earlier remarks that he had said that there was a change in policy and that Kashmir would have to be discussed first before all other issues. Maintaining that he was not against a simultaneous discussion of all issues, if Kashmir was given priority in emphasis, he said he was against the ``apologetic'' tone of the references to the Kashmir dispute in the Lahore agreement. ``I am not saying that we need to immediately resolve Kashmir. I am saying that we need to start a dialogue on Kashmir, we need to accept Kashmir as a problem and start a dialogue and simultaneously let us discuss everything else. I am open to discussion on every other thing. What is the problem?''

Insisting that he had no problem with the existing frameworks for bilateral discussion such as the Shimla agreement and the Lahore accord, he maintained that bilateralism had failed because the main issue, the Kashmir dispute had been ``sidelined''. He made clear that he was ``not really against bilateralism or talking with India on a bilateral basis... that is a good way of addressing if the two side... the two belligerents are realistic... it shows maturity that both sides resolve their disputes themselves...'' But since 1972, had the two countries addressed the main dispute? ``Okay, today, I am saying, let's start bilaterally. Let's address all issues, Kashmir and other issues... I'm forthcoming. I will agree on talks, let's face facts and let's adhere to the Shimla accord... the only thing I am saying is, let's not please sideline Kashmir because that is the only dispute.''

Pakistan's Chief Executive strongly rejected suggestions that Pakistan was providing support and cover for acts of terrorism such as the recent hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu. Asked why his Government could not offer constructive cooperation when presented with leads that the five hijackers, identified by the Indian Government as Pakistani nationals, were in Pakistan, General Musharraf said: ``They are not in Pakistan, I categorically deny this statement... and if they are in Pakistan, we will surely proceed against them according to the law... we do not support hijacking at all... we are against all forms of terrorism and hijacking is one form of terrorism... we abhor it and we will not let the terrorists come to Pakistan.'' When it was pointed out that one hijacker had been identified as Ibrahim, brother of the released Harkat-ul-Mujahideen militant, Masood Azhar, and was therefore a Pakistani national, General Musharraf said that he did not know whether that was the case. ``So say the Indians, but as I have said, we haven't spoken to them (the hijackers), we haven't met them, we haven't seen them. Now whoever is the hijacker, whatever the relationship with any one, we are against it... we will not allow it and he'll be put on trial if he comes to Pakistan.''

Asked whether he had received suggestions from the United States and other powers to ban and clamp down on the various terrorist groups involved in the Kashmir insurgency, General Musharraf said that he had received no such suggestions. However, he did discuss the issue of terrorism with the group of U.S. Senators who had been visiting Pakistan that weekend. ``We are absolutely and totally against terrorism of any form, export of terrorism or using religion for the purpose of terrorism... if any group is involved in terrorism, I accept that this will not be allowed from the soil of Pakistan.''

Significantly, General Musharraf made clear that he was hurt by the tenor of Indian diplomacy, particularly the campaign to get Pakistan declared a terrorist state. In a reference to the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh's trip to London, he said: ``This diplomacy that is being carried on...your Foreign Minister is in the United Kingdom, maybe to undercut this Government or to malign this Government, to try to get it declared a terrorist state... if they want to continue like this... tension will continue... and I may also add that I am not one of those that when you keep receiving all this flak from across the border, I keep sitting and turn my other cheek.''

Asked whether in the context of Kargil and the continuing tensions, including the fact of the nuclear status of both countries, temporary confidence-building measures could not be put in place, General Musharraf said that these would look ``like a farce''. As a former Director-General of Military Operations, he could say that these were ``really cosmetic'' and hardly served any purpose. ``Confidence-building measures without addressing the root cause is just like plucking a leaf from a tree. You go to the root or otherwise it is not going to serve a purpose.''

General Musharraf expressed dismay over media reports portraying him as creating hurdles when the Prime Minister, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, had come to Wagah last year and said categorically that he had discussed the modalities of the entire affair earlier with the former Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, and it had been decided that while Mr. Sharif would receive Mr. Vajpayee at Wagah, he along with the other service chiefs were the first to receive Mr. Vajpayee when he got off his helicopter in Lahore and had later met him again at the Governor's House in Lahore. The Chief Executive also strongly refuted the perception that he was the main architect of the Kargil episode. The former Prime Minister was also involved in it, he said. ``Everyone was on board, I still stand by it, whatever was happening in Kargil, everyone knew what was happening.''

Asked whether the direct takeover of power by the Army in Pakistan would make a resolution of India-Pakistan differences easier than when political administrations were at the helm, General Musharraf's reply was ``Yes, absolutely.'' He went on to draw a parallel with the BJP's rule in Delhi. ``Even on the Indian side, when the intelligentsia talks of who could address the Kashmir problem, one always thought it would be the BJP, although the BJP are the hardliners... one always thought here that maybe Congress would not be able to address the Kashmir issue, the BJP can.''

Is the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton, visiting Pakistan when he comes to South Asia? Denying that there was any such stated or implied linkage between the presidential visit and a timetable for a return to democracy, General Musharraf, however, said it would have to be made clear as to what the U.S. President was coming here for. ``If the President is coming for bringing a rapprochement between India and Pakistan or bringing peace to the region... if he is coming to contribute towards the lessening of tensions... then I really don't see how this objective can be achieved without going to both India and Pakistan. But if he is just coming for some economic cooperation... then that is a different issue altogether.''

We'll bring democracy

On the crucial issue of when and how Pakistan would return to a democratic system of Government, General Musharraf questioned the premise of ``return'' to democracy as there had not been any democracy existing in Pakistan before October. ``There was no democracy here. We will bring democracy and this will take some time. The time-frame cannot be given, it's not possible because before returning to civil rule, there are certain prerequisites.'' These, he identified as stabilising the economy and improving governance. He also affirmed that the idea of a referendum, envisaged earlier, had now been given up as it would be ``a total distraction'' from the main issues facing the Government. Asked whether this meant the Army would have a permanent role in the Pakistani political system, General Musharraf said that unlike in India, the military was involved in nation-building, and to say that the military did not have a role, when it always had, would be ``hypocrisy''. Would he implement a sentence of death penalty if the former Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, was awarded one after conviction? The General's reply was: ``I can't answer that. Let the courts decide first. And then when I am faced with the issue, I will deliberate on it... but I am not a very vindictive man...''

(Details of interview in International section)

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