Kashmir, Water To Top Talks Agenda: Qureshi10 February 2010
The News International
Islamabad: Unfazed by earlier Indian pressure tactics including abrupt ending of composite dialogue in the wake of mumbai attacks, Pakistan on Wednesday sent out a clear signal that if future engagements came with ‘conditions’, then these talks would only prove a non-starter and would serve neither Pakistan nor India’s interests. And Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s body language complemented it all as well. Appearing relaxed at the conclusion of the inter-ministerial meeting at the Foreign Office it was apparent that there had been a consensus among all the stakeholders at the meeting, which formulated a reply to India’s offer to once again meet at the table. Speaking to The News in his office, a very confident sounding minister said, “It was because of the political forces and the military being on the same page throughout this whole period that it forced a re-think in India which also made them realise that talks were in their interest. India tried its best to isolate Pakistan after Mumbai and tried to put it on the mat at every given opportunity. After all what other option did we have but talks? “When asked specifically if it was not the final push from COAS General Kayani’ recent presentation at NATO headquarters in Brussels that finally convinced the western powers of Pakistan’s genuine concerns on its eastern borders, the minister agreed to some extent. “There were a number of factors including these very powers who were acknowledging the work that Pakistan’s civil government and its military had being doing and they appreciated the success of our operations and the political leadership’s human and economic sacrifices”, he said. Pakistan’s challenges on its western borders and threats on its east were not just a case of being India-centric, he added. “Our engagements at the political and military level proved that we were on the same page and certainly General Kayani pointed out at Brussels that Pakistan and India have a history, there is ‘capability’ on the other side and though intentions can be ‘good’ they can change as well”, Qureshi explained. But the minister was gracious enough to also add the Indian intelligentsia, their think tanks and thinkers who were also instrumental in making New Delhi see reason and advantage by talking. The file from the minister’s office will soon be moved to the Prime Minister’s secretariat and the President office after which a final decision will be announced. “We do not have too many concerns regarding dates. February 25 is not a bad date, that is if it also suits our Foreign Secretary, and as to where we meet, it is really not that important. What is important is that we start talking. Of course we feel that these talks should be the re-start of the Composite Dialogue and take it up from where we left off. After all, all the issues that both sides want to raise are included in the Composite Dialogue”, he added. Agreeing that no earth shaking results came from the past several rounds of the Composite Dialogue “but there is a consensus and everyone agrees that there was some movement through these talks and it is the Composite Dialogue which is the best route to take to address all outstanding issues”, he said. Later talking to The News and Geo in a joint interview, Qureshi said that all the stakeholders at the inter-ministerial meeting gave their views as the Foreign Office alone did not have monopoly on ‘wisdom’, and they had worked towards a point of view, which would be shared with the political leadership who will then chart the way forward. The minister very firmly pointed out that the way forward was what was good for the region. “Let us not get caught in ‘conditions’. So far there have been no conditions from India. Let us instead look at what is good for peace. Common sense dictates to start talks as quickly as possible. Pakistan has shown political will where all political forces in and out of the government agree on engagements with India”, he said. Qureshi brushed aside apprehensions about what would happen if another Mumbai happened. “Pakistan faces terrorism everyday, but have we stopped engaging with those countries whose nationals maim and kill Pakistanis in Pakistan? No, we have not”, he replied. Kashmir, the minister says, would be central for Pakistan as this is an issue that India recognises as well. “India has even started quiet diplomacy with the Kashmiris, in fact it is an issue that all three recognise”, he said. Another issue of importance for Pakistan will be the water issue. “The Parliament has debated this and it has been raised at the climate change conferences. Pakistan is an agriculture-based country and 90% of our water is needed for agriculture. When I met with Prime Minister Singh I presented this issue. Of course strategic balance is another issue for us”, he added. Pakistan wants the ATM mechanism mutually agreed by both sides to further improve. “We can dwell on this as terrorism is also an issue for Pakistan. Many other issues are interlinked”, he said. Turning to Afghanistan he said that it was for this country alone to decide whom they wanted to approach in the process of reconciliation. “We want a peaceful Afghanistan and reconciliation should be Afghan-led. If they want a role for Pakistan we are ready. After all we did cooperate in the meetings of jirgas and jirgagaees”, he said.