NATIONAL

Musharraf is free to meet Hurriyat leaders: Saran

Amit Baruah

NEW DELHI: India has no problem with the Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, meeting leaders of the Hurriyat factions. "Pakistani leaders come, they meet any Hurriyat leaders ... we are a democratic country, we have no problem with these kind of meetings," the Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, said this evening.

On why the Indian and Pakistani consulates in Karachi and Mumbai had not been reopened yet despite a prior agreement, Mr. Saran said: "We had shown some properties to our Pakistani friends in Mumbai. Perhaps they were not found suitable or they were very expensive. We have now requested the Maharashtra Government to help us locate some other properties, which I believe has been done. I understand that very soon, perhaps, a team from the Pakistani High Commission will again be going to Mumbai to look at these properties."

Out-of- the-box solution

Asked what could be an "out-of-the-box" solution on Kashmir, Mr. Saran said New Delhi was looking at an India-Pakistan relationship where the borders become less and less important. "I think that is ... thinking away from our conventional way of handling relations between States." Mr. Saran, who has just returned from Washington, said the United States felt very optimistic about the India-Pakistan peace process. On the "message" coming from Pakistan, he maintained that the Musharraf visit was taking place in a very positive background.

Pointing to the achievements of the dialogue process, he said: "Let us not forget that one and a half years is a rather short time. I think we should be proud about the fact that we have actually achieved quite a great deal in this one and half years. So, it is with a degree of optimism that we look forward to President Musharraf's visit and we believe that it would be a very successful visit."

Win-win situation for all

Asked whether India's changing relationship with China would have any bearing on New Delhi's equation with Pakistan, Mr. Saran stated: "We believe that it is a win-win situation for all concerned. I think if there are good relations between India and China and there are good relations between China and Pakistan, I think it creates a positive ambience all around. It is something to be welcomed by all of us."

About the invitation to Gen. Musharraf, Mr. Saran said the President was welcome anywhere, whether it was in Delhi or any other part of India. "He is a honoured guest no matter where the visit takes place... we are very happy to receive President Musharraf not just to watch cricket, but if he would like to utilise this opportunity to engage in discussion with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, we have welcomed that opportunity because we believe that such an opportunity can only advance the cause of India-Pakistan friendship." When asked about Gen. Musharraf's statements that there had been progress on confidence-building measures and not on the Kashmir issue, Mr. Saran said this was a complex issue that had been on the horizon for the past 57-58 years.

"... It stands to reason that in addressing such an issue you need to build up a degree of confidence and trust between the two sides.''

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