| Eight-year-old Kulsooma Mir holds a photograph of her missing father Ghulam Mohammed Mir at a news conference in Srinagar. (Reuters)
April 23: Pakistan has responded from two flanks to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s conditional offer of friendship.
President Pervez Musharraf said he was “glad” and his foreign minister dangled a fresh proposal to persuade India to participate in a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline project.
Making his first comments on the “hand of friendship” extended by the Indian Prime Minister, Musharraf said in Islamabad: “We are glad to see positive indications coming lately.”
He expressed the hope that the indications “can be pursued to greater interacting process”. Pakistan was prepared to engage in a comprehensive dialogue with India on Kashmir and other disputes, he added.
Musharraf’s comments were made at a banquet held last night for visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to the state-run APP news agency.
Musharraf said the Valley has been at the “heart of Pakistan-India differences since Independence” and the issue is the main impediment to the development of normal relations between the two countries.
“Pakistan wishes to resolve all its issues with India peacefully,” Musharraf added.
Saying tensions in South Asia seemed to be easing, Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri made a fresh offer to India to participate in a multi-billion dollar pipeline from Turkmenistan.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Kasuri said Pakistan was ready to offer India any international guarantees it needed to participate in the $2.5-billion, 1,600-km Central Asian gas pipeline.
Referring to Vajpayee’s condition that violence should end in Kashmir, Kasuri said there should not be any “quibbling” over the wording of the statement by the Indian Prime Minister.
“No useful purpose will be gained by looking at it cynically. I would like to say to India, Pakistan has a vital interest in improving relations with India,” Kasuri said.
The pipeline project, which will take three years to complete, is expected to transport up to 29.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Daulatabad fields in Turkmenistan to consumers in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, if Delhi agrees to participate.
Kasuri said Pakistan is ready to offer Delhi international guarantees for the pipeline’s security. He said the contract can have the guarantees written in to satisfy Delhi.
Kasuri said Pakistan’s fresh offer is in line with Delhi’s assertion that trade between the two countries is a good start to improving relations — even without a settlement in Kashmir.
India refused to respond to Kasuri’s latest offer. But, in private, officials in Delhi said there was little chance of Delhi accepting it.
In March, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan had written a letter to the Indian government asking it to participate in the pipeline project. But the offer was summarily rejected by India.
India sees desperation in the Pakistani foreign minister’s offer.
The pipeline project has so far not found any international financial agency or consortium to back the proposal.
No one is willing to make a commitment till the end-users are firmed up. This means that until India — the main market for the Central Asian gas — turns around, the project will hang fire.
Indian officials feel that the Pakistani offer is strategic and “self-serving”.
Pakistan is expected to earn a substantial amount of money as transit fees for the pipeline.