June 1999 News

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Gujral says Nawaz provided details about terrorists with Stingers

28 October 1999
Jang

NEW DELHI: Former Indian prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral has said that former premier Nawaz Sharif had provided him details about five terrorists who had been arrested with Stinger missiles in the Kashmir Valley.

Gujral has revealed stunning details about how close former premier Nawaz Sharif and his family were to him and how the depth of their friendship reflected on India-Pakistan bilateral ties while the two were in power.

According to a report published by the Hindustan Times on Thursday, Gujral, while recalling his days in power, said that he had spoken to Nawaz on hotline about the five terrorists who had been arrested with Stinger missiles in the Kashmir Valley. He said that his counterpart had provided him details about the terrorist incident, on his request.

According to Gujral, "Nawaz said he had been extremely busy the entire day and was ringing up so that he could fulfill his promise of providing details about the terrorist incident within 24 hours. We were speaking in Punjabi. His sincerity, the fact he cared so much about his promise, was touching. For me, he was not just a head of government, but was and would always be a dear friend.

"My association with Sharif at a personal level dates back to 1994. I had then gone to Pakistan to attend the Track II conference of Saarc. Nawaz sent Mushahid Hussain, who later became his information minister, to meet me in Rawalpindi and invite me to tea at his house. At the time, Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister, and Nawaz an important leader of the opposition. Mushahid and I were old friends. "I had met him at Kuldip Nayar's house in the early 1980s when he was in India on his honeymoon. I accepted Nawaz's invitation. Mian Saheb, as I addressed him, had a very elaborate spread that day.

His colleagues, like Sartaj Aziz and others, were also there. I stayed for about two hours, and discussed a variety of issues, including the possibility of improving relations between the two countries. They were unhappy that Benazir wasn't doing enough in this direction. This was a month before the Saarc moot in New Delhi -- Benazir did not come to the meeting, and instead sent her foreign minister.

"Our relationship deepened in 1996 when I became the foreign minister. He sent Gohar Ayub with a message of cooperation. This inaugurated a new phase in the relationship of the two countries.

"Soon after that, I was elected prime minister and we met in Male during the Saarc conference. At our first encounter, he excitedly recounted how the people of my hometown Jhelum lit lamps the day I was sworn in. We had warm talks over elaborate breakfasts in his cottage. It was at Male that both of us drew the broad outlines of our bilateral cooperation. We met on numerous other occasions, at New York, Edinburgh and Dhaka. And the relationship extended even to our family members. My wife shares a very affectionate relationship with his wife. When his son came to India on a private visit, he made it a point to call on us. Nawaz Sharif, a generation younger to me, looks up to me as his elder.

"When we met in New York with our wives, he presented a beautiful carpet that we treasure to this day. The Sharifs came across to me as a very close knit family. Sharif is very devoted to his wife and family. We often discussed our problems of governance and even personal matters.

"In Edinburgh, we were sitting with our respective delegations when Sharif remarked, "Whey don't you purchase power from us?" I said I was keen and suggested that our commerce ministers, who were also with us, should explore the possibility. His foreign secretary piped in: "Let us first solve the Kashmir problem before you talk of cooperation." Sharif and I ignored the discordant note, but later, in private, I asked him how his officer could dare to speak like that in front of him. Nodding his head, he said, "Do you think I didn't see it." Sharif was interested in improving relations with India, but faced impediments from the hard-liners. Yet we managed to relax visa curbs and encourage one-to-one interaction."

Gujral said Pakistan purchased 50,000 tonnes of sugar from India. "The power purchase talks, though, did not bear fruit. We have kept in touch through telephone and letters. When the nuclear tests were conducted, I called him and urged restraint. His response was warm. Again, at the start of Kargil conflict, I spoke to him. He promised to call back, but by the time he did, the issue had become so heated that his replies did not sound convincing. I am sorry at his downfall, I guess he had taken on too many people," he added.

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