March 2008 News

Zardari’s comments surprise Indian experts

3 March 2008
The Daily Times

Islamabad: Former IHK CM urges Manmohan to resolve Kashmir issue as soon as possible By Iftikhar Gilani NEW DELHI: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari’s statement to push the Kashmir issue to the backburner, and for the coming generations to settle the matter, has enraged Kashmiri leaders across the board and surprised key Indian experts and strategists involved in back- channel diplomacy with Pakistan. For years India had been pushing Pakistan to focus on trade and economic progress while allowing a half-hearted engagement on Kashmir. The idea was that progress on other issues should not remain hostage to Kashmir. “But, the situation changed after prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee traveled to Islamabad in January 2004, where both countries had committed to make a simultaneous progress on Kashmir as well,” a key interlocutor told Daily Times. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh took the engagement to new heights, as he and President Pervez Pervez Musharraf crafted a “credible framework for a final settlement”. Key interlocutors who were engaged with Pakistan said they were amazed at the flexibility shown by their Pakistani counterparts. However, Zardari’s pronouncements may have sent a wave of triumph within a section of the Indian establishment, including intelligence agencies opposed to give any concession to Pakistan. Former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayed, who on Monday called on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, made an impatient plea to settle the issue as soon as possible. National Conference President Omar Abdullah warned that freezing the Kashmir issue without finding a solution would prove dangerous not only for India but also for Pakistan. The moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, condemned Zardari’s pronouncements and called it a personal opinion of the PPP working president. JKLF chief Muhammad Yasin Malik also rejected the idea. “I support friendship between India and Pakistan. But not at the cost of suppressing the Kashmir dispute,” said Malik. Leader of hardline faction of Hurriyat, Syed Ali Geelani, said the Kashmir cause was not subservient to a statement of any leader. However, he described Zardari’s statement as “significant”, saying it would provide India a lever to portray it as the voice of the Pakistani people.

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