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'Kashmir solution can reduce extremism in Pak society'

Q&A: Pervez Musharraf

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf believes India needs to be brought in to solve the biggest threat faced by today’s Pakistan — extremism and terrorism by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and extremists in their society. Speaking to Karan Thapar in a special CNN-IBN interview, to be telecast on Saturday and Sunday, Musharraf also says that during his tenure as the president, India and Pakistan were close to solve the key disputes of Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek. Edited Excerpts:

Are Pakistanis today less wary of India and more willing to believe that India means them no harm?
I think generally, if you took my view, most of them think India has not reconciled to Pakistan’s existence and, therefore, there is always a threat from India.

But General Musharraf, give me a clear answer. Which is the bigger threat?
Today, under the absolute present circumstances, the biggest threat is extremism and terrorism by Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the extremists in our society.

There is a widespread belief that while you were the President of Pakistan there were enormous advances made on the back channel. Is that belief accurate?

Yes, absolutely.

Let me quote to you what American journalist Steve Coll has written in the New Yorker. He writes that the two countries “were close to a deal” and it was “huge”. Your own former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri told me in February this year that if people found out the truth, they would never believe how close the two countries were to an agreement. Is that accurate?
Yes, I think it’s accurate. Yes.

You are really telling me that the two countries were close to an agreement that was path-breaking?
Yes, absolutely. On all three issues: Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek.

To begin with, what exactly had you achieved on Sir Creek?
Well, we had carried out joint surveys, which were complete. The issue was the changing course of the Indus river. While Indians thought that the boundary should be taken on the western side of the river, on the Sir Creek, we were claiming on the eastern side. This had implications on the EEZ (exclusive economic zone), when you carried out the survey when the points extended out into the sea. We carried out joint surveys and knew exactly all the details. We only had to agree to some form of agreement to the extension of those points into the sea, what becomes of the area which comes between the maximum position of Pakistan and the maximum position of India.

Khurshid Kasuri told me in February that not only was an agreement ready, it was waiting for the Indian Prime Minister to come to Pakistan and sign. He says: “If the Indian PM had come to Pakistan when we thought he would, we would actually have signed it.”
Yes, indeed, of course. I had told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and he had agreed. It was his turn to come to Pakistan and we had decided that if he comes and there is no signature on at least one out of those three, it would be a total flop and that must never happen. So, we agreed that when he comes there will be an agreement on at least one of those three.

And that one was most likely Sir Creek?
Yes, Sir Creek was more possible, but we had made great progress on the other two also.

So, you had worked out schedules of disengagement.
Yes. And positions as well, where will we withdraw and what will be the disengagement zone.

Let’s come to the key dispute: Kashmir. Steve Coll writes in the New Yorker that the last non-paper drafted in 2007 worked out agreed principles for a settlement. What were those principles?
Those principles, basically, were three. One element was demilitarisation, which was my idea that we should carry out demilitarisation on the Line of Control (LoC) and also within the held-Kashmir. And on our side, reciprocal action. I was suggesting that the Indian military should move out of two or three cities like Srinagar and Baramulla. So, that was the demilitarisation part. A phased demilitarisation where you withdraw and get into some concentration areas and finally withdraw more. So, it was a phased demilitarisation.

The second principle was self-governance. Explain what that means.
Well, giving maximum governance to the people of Kashmir on both sides.

The third principle is what’s called a joint mechanism. What was that?
Joint mechanism was to oversee that self-governance and also discussing whatever we have not devolved to the people of Kashmir. There were other elements and overseeing that there was supposed to be a body comprising Kashmiris from both sides. That body would have been an over-watch on whatever we had decided.

If you have a free passage of trade, of people, of communication, is Steve Coll correct in saying that this would have converted the LoC into something like the European borders?
Yes, absolutely. That is what we wanted, that they should meet freely, move freely. And may I say another element that you have not mentioned that this would have been tried for a number of years, say about 15-20 years, and then we revisit what we have achieved and what needs to be amended, changed or we carry on in the same way.

Let’s turn to the situation in Pakistan. In your assessment, to what extent does the threat from the Taliban undermine Pakistan’s integrity and its unity?
I wouldn’t say that it undermines Pakistan’s integrity but it does cause a serious law and order problem. I don’t think the integrity of Pakistan is threatened.

US President Obama has come out with an ‘Af-Pak’ strategy. Do you believe it is an adequate solution to the problem or it could end up exacerbating it?
I don’t agree with this Af-Pak solution at all because we are being bracketed with Afghanistan. Afghanistan hardly has any governance, it is out of control. And also, there is extremism within India among the Muslim youth and it is developing linkages with others — the Kashmir issue too. Therefore, if we want to finally deal with terrorism and extremism and solve it in its short-term and long-term perspective, we have to look at events in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. I am totally against this Af-Pak strategy.

Are you suggesting that Af-Pak should be broadened to include Kashmir, may be India as a whole?
Yes, yes. Absolutely.

But then what would that do to the bilateral peace process between India and Pakistan? Wouldn’t that shatter it?
We are talking about acting holistically against terrorism and extremism. Now, if we were to only resolve Pakistan, Afghanistan and the borders and frontiers then it makes no sense because what you are talking about, these Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are all there because of Kashmir. And now they have sympathies with the Muslim youth because they think they are being alienated, they are underprivileged, etc. So, how does this get solved? As far as Pakistan is concerned, the same extremist organisations will have a lot to continue on the path which they are following. Therefore, India has to be brought in. I said this even when I went to India and I have been saying this in all my interviews. I don’t mean to undermine India at all, but we have to take a holistic view of terrorism and extremism and solve it from the roots.

Isn’t there a contradiction between what you said to me earlier and what you are saying to me now?
The solution to the Kashmir issue strikes at the root of extremism in our society. So, if we solve the Kashmir dispute, we are contributing very substantially to reduce extremism in the Pakistani society.

But what I am pointing out is can you both hope to revive the back channels that you talked about in detail and, at the same time, want to make Kashmir a part of Af-Pak?
Yes, why not? What is the problem in that?

One is bilateral, the other is multilateral.
I can talk of Kashmir and only Kashmir. The Af-Pak issue of dealing with terrorism and extremism is holistic and India needs to be brought into it. Why do organisations like the Lashkar and Jaish exist? How can we pull the carpet from under their feet? Basically, they are there because of Kashmir and now also because of the situation with the Muslim minority in India. These things need to be resolved.

Can I clarify, what for many might just be confusing, which do you think is the preferential way of sorting out the Kashmir problem? By pursing the agreements which you thought you had on the back-channels — essentially bilateral talks — or by involving Kashmir and these issues as part of the Af-Pak policy and regionalising them?
Bilateral is better. These are semantics. We are talking about strategies and what needs to be done. We have to resolve these and bring India into the focus, what is happening to India and how is it creating negative effects in Pakistan. Well, if bilaterally we are making progress, let’s leave it at that. I agree totally that bilaterally it would be better to resolve the dispute of Kashmir.

My interest is that we have to resolve the Kashmir dispute, whether it is bilaterally, regionally, internationally — I don’t care. Bilaterally is the best but if that fails, we should revert to what we were doing initially — internationalise the issue. Pakistan will have to go back to that trend. Then what will again happen in the future, I don’t know.

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First Published: Sat, July 18 2009. 00:25 IST