‘Interim Pact’ On Kashmir Was For 15 Years: Kasuri27 April 2010
The News International
Lahore: Former foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri has disclosed that the agreement on Kashmir, worked out through back-channel diplomacy, was an interim one, and was subject to review after 15 years. Talking to The News here on Tuesday in the backdrop of ‘Aman Ki Asha’ - a joint venture of the Jang Group of Pakistan and The Times of India, Khursheed Kasuri claimed the Pakistani and Indian sides at that time had the realisation that in view of the history of Jammu and Kashmir dispute, no solution that they could think of would be an ideal one. He termed that agreement on Kashmir the best possible under the circumstances. “We were aware of the fact that there would be an overwhelming support for this agreement; but we also realised that there would be criticism from some sections in Kashmir, Pakistan and India,” he said, adding that it was impossible to offer a solution which could be acceptable to everyone. Kasuri said they decided that the arrangement they had arrived at would need a review after 15 years of its announcement. During this period, its implementation would be monitored by all parties concerned and, in the light of the experience, this arrangement could further be improved. He said the water issue was not discussed as a crucial matter at that time; the agreement on Kashmir was being negotiated. However, the management of water was one of the issues included in the joint mechanism. He claimed that the joint mechanism was apart from the Indus Basin Treaty, which was the basis of water sharing arrangement between the two countries. Responding to allegations from religio-political parties, which termed the proposed agreement an attempt to sell out Kashmir, Kasuri said the basis of the agreement was the assumption that Pakistan and India had tried everything in their power to enforce their version of a Kashmir settlement. “They have fought five wars, including two minor ones in the Rann of Katch and Kargil. There have been various mobilisations of troops, including the largest one since First World War (Operation Parakram), in which one million soldiers remained eyeball-to-eyeball for almost a year,” Kasuri claimed. He said the nuclear parity had been established in South Asia after the nuclear tests India and Pakistan conducted, making war between the two countries nearly impossible. Reacting to the criticism by Syed Ali Geelani of his statement on the reported Kashmir agreement, Kasuri claimed that he had great respect for Ali Geelani for his being a freedom fighter, but he disagreed with him that the solution that was envisaged for Kashmir would have led to further disturbances in the valley and that the people of the valley would never have acquiesced in a settlement that he described as one perpetuating the status quo. Giving reasons for his disagreement, he said the whole purpose of the disagreement was to improve the comfort level of the Kashmiris by the gradual demilitarisation. “The Kashmiri leaders, we met in India, Pakistan and overseas, attached highest importance to withdrawal of the Indian forces,” he claimed. Furthermore, he said the Kashmiris, due to the proposed agreement, would have become in-charge of their own destiny in a vast array of specified subjects in the economic, social and political spheres. He claimed that the very creation of a joint mechanism consisting of Kashmiri representatives from both sides as well as Indian and Pakistanis would have comprehensively negated the criticism that status quo had not been changed. He said the agreement arrived at once signed could not be unilaterally changed by either side. He believed that it would have given a lot of relief and hope to the Kashmiris. He welcomed the statement of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that efforts were being made through the back-channel diplomacy to resolve all outstanding issues with India. He said it was important that negotiations be resumed because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government with which they negotiated the arrangement was still in power, and the BJP the other majority party had started the process during the tenure of former prime minister Vajpayee. He said he welcomed it despite being in the opposition because he believed that in matter of national interest one had to rise above the spirit of partisan. He claimed that there was no need to reinvent the wheel and the recent comments from the Foreign Office of Pakistan suggested the same and were encouraging. He said painstaking and detailed work had already been done and the two governments should take off from where they had left. Kasuri claimed that they conducted secret negotiations with all stakeholders because they wanted to avoid any spins or leaks, which could damage the level of trust between the parties. He said they could not have signed an agreement without authorisation from their respective cabinets and parliaments. He claimed that the whole idea was to produce a draft which the governments of Pakistan and India felt would be acceptable to the large majority of Kashmiris, Pakistanis and Indians, and the draft agreement would then have been submitted to the appropriate constitutional authorities in both the countries for their approval. Kasuri believed that the present government also supported the agreement. He claimed that President Asif Ali Zardari, in his very first interview at the Aiwan-e-Sadr, said the nation would have good news about Kashmir very soon. He claimed that though this announcement was premature, yet it was clear that he could only make the statement because he was aware of the progress made on back-channel and supported it. He said the incumbent government appointed Tariq Aziz, their representative on back-channel, to continue his work after the present government took over. He further referred Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s announcement during an interview with CNN that former foreign secretary Riaz Muhammad Khan, who was privy to all negotiations on the Kashmir agreement, was asked to start working on the back-channel. Kasuri pointed out that those who criticised the secret nature of the back-channel needed to take note of the great secrecy with which the representatives of various political parties conducted their negotiations in parliament over the issue of the 18th Amendment, although this was purely an internal matter and not even marginally capable of exploitation by premature leaks or spins as against the protracted and difficult nature of negotiations between Pakistan and India given their troubled history on the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. Regarding taking all the stakeholders on board, he stated it was unthinkable that an issue of this nature could be negotiated without having all the stakeholders on board. He claimed that besides the Foreign Office and the Presidency, the Military was appropriately represented. Kasuri claimed that the nature of Pakistan-India relations following the Mumbai attacks needed concerted efforts not just by the government but also by the civil society to bring the two countries to the dialogue process once again. He appreciated ‘Aman ki Asha’ by the Jang Group and The Times of India Group as an important contribution in helping to remove some of the trust deficit that existed between the two countries.