A lifetime opportunity for India and Pakistan, says Musharraf

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (right) and Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz greet each other as President General Pervez Musharraf looks on during the world conference of donors in Islamabad on Saturday.  

B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD: Suggesting that a resolution of the Kashmir issue could once and for all be New Delhi's "donation to Kashmir," Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf maintained here on Saturday that the October 8 earthquake presented a `lifetime opportunity' for India and Pakistan to improve relations.

In his keynote address to the international donors' conference organised by Pakistan to raise resources for earthquake victims, Gen. Musharraf concluded his speech with detailed references to the opportunity provided to India and Pakistan by the earthquake to move into a new era of bilateral ties.

Amidst applause from the 300 delegates from 50-odd countries and international organisations, Gen. Musharraf addressed virtually every section of society in India to convert the opportunity towards a settlement of the Kashmir issue.

Perhaps for the first time in history a de facto recognition was accorded by Pakistan to the Government of Jammu and Kashmir when Gen. Musharraf chose to seek the help of the "Government of Indian held Kashmir" for a resolution of the problem.

Expresses gratitude to India

In the course of a 50 minute presentation on the damage wrecked by the earthquake and the plans of his Government for rebuilding the lives of the 3.3 million people affected, Gen. Musharraf singled out India to express his sense of "gratitude" for the help to the quake victims.

Gen. Musharraf pointed from the podium to Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed in the conference hall as head of the Indian delegation, and said, "Knowing very well an Indian delegate is sitting here ... the earthquake has created a unique feeling of togetherness, of an urge to help each other within [the] people of Kashmir on both sides of [the] LoC and more than that within the people of India and Pakistan ... the urge to help each other. Therefore, I sincerely and genuinely believe that the challenge of this earthquake can be converted into an opportunity of [a] lifetime which was never available to India and Pakistan to improve relations," Gen. Musharraf said.

"[I] take this opportunity and forum to appeal to the President and the Prime Minister of India, to the Government of India, to [the] entire opposition in India, to the people of India at large and the business community and more than anybody else I appeal to the media in India and also Pakistan, the Government of Indian-held Kashmir, APHC (Hurriyat Conference) and other Kashmiri groups ... let us together solve the Kashmir dispute once for all," he said.

Pakistan President said that fleeting opportunities did not come everyday and if leaders failed to grasp fleeting opportunities, they failed their nations and failed their people.

"Therefore, let success and happiness emerge from the ruins of this catastrophe, for the devastated people of Kashmir, let this be the Indian donation to Kashmir," he told the meet attended, among others, by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Also, while talking about plans to rebuild quake-affected areas, Gen. Musharraf said the Indian steel industry could take part in the reconstruction efforts by providing corrugated sheets in a big way.

"We will import from anywhere. I know that India has promised $25 million (for reconstruction). They have a big steel industry. Why not get corrugated sheets which is the mainstay of accommodation from your country," he said looking at Mr. Ahmed.

India, besides sending over 1,300 tonnes of relief material such as tents, blankets and food for quake victims, had pledged $25 million in kind for the reconstruction at last month's U.N. Conference in Geneva.