Pakistan calls for Kashmir talks
NEW DELHI, Jan 17: Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf said in remarks published today that only talks on disputed Kashmir could improve ties with India currently at their "lowest" level, reports AFP.
Musharraf also denied New Delhi's allegations that his country was involved in the recent hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane and said the hijackers were not in Pakistan.
"I totally agree that relations between India and Pakistan are at their lowest," Musharraf said in an interview with The Hindu, the first to an Indian newspaper since he took power in a coup in October last year.
"The root cause is Kashmir," he said, adding that earlier efforts to improve ties through cricket matches and a pathbreaking bus journey to Pakistan by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had failed.
"It has failed because the core issue was not being addressed. I feel there is one dispute only... the Kashmir dispute. Others are minor aberrations."
Musharraf said the South Asian region was fraught with tension, especially along the disputed Kashmir frontier.
"Every day there is firing and killing on both sides of the border. Lots of people are dying, they are getting killed."
India accuses Pakistan, which administers the northern part of Kashmir, of fomenting a Muslim separatist drive in the Indian zone of the state. The secessionist campaign has claimed more than 25,000 lives since 1989. Islamabad denies the charge but extends moral and diplomatic support to the unrest.
Musharraf denied he had reneged on a peace agreement inked by Vajpayee and the-then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif in February last year.
The general said the accord only referred to Kashmir in passing.
"Previously there was an apology to Kashmir. I will not make it apologetic. I want to face facts and I want the Indians to face the facts."
Musharraf said another stumbling block was Indian non-recognition of his regime.
"If they carry on thinking that this government is not legitimate when the whole of Pakistan, 130 million people are with us, I don't know what to say. We won't progress anywhere."
The general said Pakistan and its intelligence agency, the ISI, served as convenient scapegoats for India while recalling the December 24-31 hijacking of an Indian plane and New Delhi's charges that the hijackers were hiding in Pakistan.
"They are not in Pakistan. I categorically deny this statement," he said. "And if they come into Pakistan, they will be tried under normal law. We do not support hijacking at all," he said.
"Something that happens in India in the remotest corner... the ISI has done it. I am very glad that the Indians think that the ISI is such powerful and potent organisation."
India on Saturday formally asked Pakistan to extradite the five hijackers to stand trial for terrorism. It was India's first official demand since the hijackers released 160 hostages in southern Afghanistan and fled into the desert.
Pakistan has dismissed the Indian call saying the charges were not supported by "credible evidence."
Musharraf also issued a veiled warning.
"And I might add that I am not one of those that when you keep on receiving this kind of flak from across the border, I keep sitting and turning my other cheek."
When asked if the rival countries, who staged tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1988 and earned worldwide condemnation, could cooperate in working towards global nuclear disarmament, Musharraf replied emphatically in the negative.
"It's not possible... When there is anger in our hearts, how do we smile and be happy and we are meeting and it does not go well with the public."