No free trade without Kashmir solution
15 January 2004
SUKKUR: Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed Thursday said there was no question of compromise on the aspirations of Kashmiri people, and hoped that India would take measures for implementing the Islamabad agreement with maximum sincerity and true spirit for resolving the Kashmir issue. He said that Kashmir problem could not be separated from bilateral trade and economic relations, because it was a key factor for peace in South Asia. Sheikh Rashid was addressing a Press conference at Circuit House here. He elaborated on various government policies visa vis internal and external issues. Information Minister dispelled the possibility of accepting the Line of Control (LoC) as international border, and asked then what was the justification of rendering thousands of sacrifices by Kashmiri martyrs for their freedom. He said there were so many solutions and options for the Kashmir problem, but he linked all of them with good intent and sincerity of India. He said, the question of free trade between India and Pakistan would rise in 2006, and by that time 'much water would have flown under the bridges'. He made it clear that Kashmir was the key factor for promoting trade relations between India and Pakistan. 'Nobody should expect that free trade would be held without seeking a resolution of Kashmir problem', he added. On a question that India had lately tested its missile Tirshol, the Information Minister said, 'let them carry on these tests, we are not afraid of them'. He said, Pakistan had thousands of capable scientists who can answer such small 'Tirsholis'. He said, Confidence-Building-Measures were needed by India, including immediate halt of human rights violations in occupied Kashmir. On a question that what would be the future scenario in case of a probable change in Indian leadership in the wake of coming general elections, the Minister said that agreements take place between the two governments and not between individuals. Therefore, it was hoped that the peace process initiated between the two countries would not be affected at all, he observed. He added that it was for the first time that India had acknowledged Kashmir as a dispute between the two countries. He said, the process of composite dialogue between India and Pakistan would start from February next, for which several committees would be formed. He said, when the two countries reach near solution, Kashmiris on both sides of the divide would be taken into confidence. Speaking about Wana Operation by Pakistan Army, he said that it was carried out to root out terrorists in the interest of the country. He said, there was no question of allowing any foreign troops to conduct operation against terrorists on our soil. While specifically referring to operation in Wana tribal area, he said, the people had been fully warned to surrender arms voluntarily. On a question about passage of 17th Constitutional Amendment, he said, he had always been telling the people that MMA is a natural ally of PML government. He said, both PML and pro-Islamic forces of MMA had never remained rivals, because they have a common goal. He blamed the PPP leadership for its confused policy on different internal and international issues, and referred to conflicting statements of Benazir Bhutto and Makhdoom Ameen Fahim vis-a-vis SAARC Conference, and talks on Kashmir issue. He reminded that Benazir had even gone for proposing a joint President for India and Pakistan in her recent visit of India. On one side she was supporting our government on SAARC, Pak- Afghan talks, and some other issues, while Makhdoom Amin was issuing contrary views, he said. When asked that some PPP legislators were reported of a shift in their party line due to confused approach by leadership, Sheikh Rashid hinted that some of them had even approached government underground, in order to settle their matters. On a question about the MMA deal with the government, he said that they were quite responsible leaders and fully knew Pakistan's political interests. It was wrong to dub them as Mullah, and added that they are respected Ulema. Information Minister disclosed that the main culprits in the suicidal bomb attack on President General Pervez Musharraf had been rounded up in different raids in Peshawar, Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur and some other cities. 'We would soon take the nation into confidence on this matter, once all detailed investigations and proofs are gathered by the investigation agencies', he said. On a question about recovery of a foreign journalist on his personal initiative, the minister said that the journalist had gone for visiting a Madrisa for an interview and making a video film of the students without any prior permission. He declared this was very wrong and breach of limit on the part of foreign media, who at times were making attempts to visit Madaras in NWFP and Punjab without seeking prior permission. He recalled the incident of journalist Daniel Pearl, and a couple of French journalists who had a few days back gone to Balochistan without a valid visa, and opined that such events could result in some tragedy for them. This is not the right sort of journalistic adventurism, and the Minister categorically declared that 'for such wrong practices by them, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should not be held accountable for any possible mishap'. He requested the foreign media to be very careful in this regard and hoped that they would act responsibly in future. The Minister disclosed that the US journalist Paul had gone in a Yellow Cab to a Madrisa, and on his personal initiative he was called back from there. He recalled a similar incident in US in which security personnel had asked a journalist to stop his car for search, but he sped away. The matter was taken up at High Court level by the heirs of journalist, charging the security of his murder, but the court after knowing about the reasons, acquitted the security man of this charge. He said, one should know the ethics and etiquette while conducting such visits and hoped that they would seek prior permission for such visits in future. Commenting on the liberal policy of giving licences for TV Channels, the Minister said, Pakistan's 5th TV Channel would come on air on February 05, 2004 while government planned to give licences to around 200-250 Channels in due course of time. He disclosed that 38 Radio licences would also be given in due course of time, and even predicted that this policy would lead to giving TV Channel to each district in country. He further said that 13 Channel licences are still in the pipeline for scrutiny. Referring to joint agreement reached between Pak-Afghan government recently in the visit of Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, the Minister for Information hoped that it would benefit the two governments for sorting out their matters including trade and economic ties. On another question about the recovery of kidnapped Punjab Minister Shahani, he hoped that he would be recovered safe. On a point that there was dire need of a Press Information Department (PID) office at Sukkur, the minister accepted the proposal in principle with the assurance that it would be looked after in due course of time.