Accept Kashmir as core issue, says Pak.

ISLAMABAD, JUNE 16. Pakistan will not insist on the settlement of the Kashmir issue as a ``pre-requisite'' for normalisation of relations with India during the coming summit between the Pakistan Chief Executive, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, if India is willing to accept Kashmir as the centrality of the problem between the two countries.

The Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Mr. Inamul Haq, gave indications on these lines here during an interaction session with a group of editors of the Pakistani media and opinion makers over a luncheon meeting. One of the participants at the meeting told The Hindu that it was part of the exercise launched by the military government to elicit public opinion in preparation for the Summit.

Mr. Haq said nothing ``conclusive'' could be expected from one summit meeting and the stage would not come at the Delhi meeting where either side would get down to discussion on the various options for resolution of the Kashmir problem.

``It would be more in the nature of sizing up each other. Gen. Musharraf has repeatedly stated that Kashmir is the core issue between India and Pakistan. In our view, by extending an invitation to the Chief Executive to visit New Delhi, India has accepted the proposition'', the Foreign Secretary said.

Stating that Pakistan would not compromise on the question of centrality of Kashmir to the dialogue process, the Foreign Secretary said the Delhi summit would be an endeavour to reach on understanding on how to go about in attempting to resolve the core issue. ``We can certainly discuss the follow-up mechanism for resolution of the Kashmir dispute once there is clarity and understanding on the centrality of the issue. Once this is clear, there could be progress on many other fronts. We are not averse to discussing progress of other issues but it would certainly not be at the cost of Kashmir '', he said.

When a participant expressed the view that in the past India had ``betrayed the faith'' of Pakistan on the negotiating table by raising subjects other than Kashmir, Mr. Haq is believed to have said that ``it would not happen this time. Our impression is the Indian side will not allow the summit to become a fiasco''.

The Foreign Secretary said Pakistan would not commit itself to any position on Kashmir in the beginning stages as it would weaken its case. There was no response from Mr. Haq when one of the participants suggested that while India would have to give up its position of Kashmir as its ``integral part'', Pakistan should not continue with its insistence of implementation of U.N. resolutions on plebiscite if the summit has to make a headway.

Mr. Haq observed, ``if the economic factors and the casualties in the Army are the reasons for the invitation from Delhi, the economic factor was equally valid in case of Pakistan. Economically we are passing through such a critical phase that we are prepared to go all out to secure peace in the region''. At the same time, he said that it did not mean Pakistan was prepared for any settlement. ``Whatever settlement is reached ultimately, it should be acceptable to Kashmiris''.