Pakistani Army supported deal on Kashmir: Former foreign minister

Thursday, January 20, 2011

NEW DELHI - Ahead of a likely meeting between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart in Thimphu next month, Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Qureshi Thursday said the Pakistani Army backed the resumption of the peace process and had supported a deal on Kashmir reached through back-channel talks during president Pervez Musharraf’s tenure.

“Contrary to perceptions in some quarters, the Army is not an obstacle to peace with India,” Kasuri said at a lecture “Evolution of India-Pakistan relations in first decade of 21st century” organised by the Indian Council for World Affairs (ICWA), the foreign ministry’s think tank, at the Sapru House.

The Pakistani Army supports the peace process between India and Pakistan and is in favour of continuing the back-channel talks, Kasuri added.

Kasuri underlined that the back-channel talks during the reign of then President Pervez Musharraf 2004-2007 had made enormous progress and stressed that the two sides had reached an “amicable agreement” on Jammu and Kashmir, Sir Creek and the Siachen glacier - the three main points of dispute between the neighbours.

“Such was the degree of progress on Sir Creek that they could be signed anytime. The two countries had agreed to a schedule for disengagement (of their military personnel) from the Siachen glacier,” he said.

Alluding to back-channel talks for three years during that period, Kasuri said the two governments had at last agreed by the end of 2006 to a settlement of the Kashmir issue.

This settlement, he said, involved making the Line of Control dividing the two halves of Kashmir irrelevant for the movement of people and trade.

This settlement, Kasuri disclosed, had the support of all the stakeholders, including the Pakistani Army.

Significantly, Kasuri’s remarks on the support of the Pakistan Army for the resumption of the peace process comes ahead of the meeting between Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Thimphu, likely Feb 6.

The two foreign secretaries are expected to set the agenda for talks between Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the sidelines of the meeting of foreign ministers of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries.

The Bhutan meeting is likely to be a precursor to the visit by Qureshi to India later this year.

The last meeting between the two foreign ministers in Islamabad July 15 last year broke down in bitter mutual recriminations. Pakistan accused India of trying to make the dialogue terror-centric, while India blamed Islamabad for wrecking the talks by setting an unrealistic timeline for resolving complex issues like Jammu and Kashmir.

India suspected the hand of the Pakistani Army behind the failed talks.

Defying sceptics, Kasuri stressed that he strongly believed in the possibility of lasting peace between India and Pakistan, but asked New Delhi to show some flexibility.

“Peace with honour is not only in the interests of Pakistan but can also be sold to the people of Pakistan. If India shows flexibility, Pakistan will reciprocate in full measure,” he said. He stressed on the fact that all sections of society in Pakistan wanted peace with India, but “with honour”.

The talk was chaired by Mani Shankar Aiyar, MP and former minister, who was a batchmate of Kasuri at Cambridge University. A former diplomat, he has also served as consul general in Karachi. Kasuri had come here at the invitation of Aiyar.

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