May 8: Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf today promised the US that any terrorist camps would be “gone tomorrow” and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee asserted that the neighbours would have to live with each other.
“President Musharraf gave absolute assurance that there was nothing happening across the Line of Control, there were no camps in Azad Kashmir (Islamabad’s name for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) and if there were camps, they would be gone tomorrow,” US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said in Islamabad, after meeting the President, Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali and other top leaders.
In Parliament, Vajpayee kept up the peace tempo: “I have told our Pakistani friends that friends can be changed but not neighbours. We have to live here. We either live as friends or we keep fighting, making ourselves a butt of ridicule before the world.”
Armitage denied there was pressure from the US to resume talks. “There is no pressure,” he said. “It is not the position of the US to pressure Pakistan or to pressure India.” Speculation has been rife in both capitals that the peace overtures were connected to Armitage’s visit.
Hours before the US official touched down in Delhi, Vajpayee rebutted Opposition charges that the government was jumping into talks unprepared. “India has not yet begun talks with Pakistan. Only the preparatory work is on,” he said in the Lok Sabha.
The Prime Minister broadly outlined three factors for his offer of friendship to Islamabad — the “overwhelming” response to his public meeting in Kashmir last month, the size and capacity of India and the US war on Iraq. The way Iraq was attacked without UN sanction, Vajpayee said, it was felt that developing and small countries needed to ponder about their future.
While asserting that cross-border terror would have to end, the Prime Minister observed that terrorists are not under the control of any one entity and that they too were divided. These considerations needed to be factored in, he said.
Vajpayee rejected Islamabad’s proposal to de-nuclearise South Asia, arguing that India’s nuclear programme was not Pakistan-centric. The reverse was true for Islamabad’s programme, he said.
Armitage, who said he saw “a nascent beginning of a dialogue”, felt the issue of arms race between the two countries could be taken up at a later stage. “What you are seeing, I hope, is the beginning of a process and I am cautiously optimistic that is exactly what we see,” he said, meeting journalists with Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri before leaving for Delhi.
Kasuri said Islamabad would like to go into tiered dialogue and hoped it would be meaningful, addressing all issues including the Kashmir dispute. However, he said, “it stands to reason that any solution that does not take into consideration the aspirations of the people of Kashmir is not likely to last”.
Vajpayee iterated that the neighbours should concentrate on resolving outstanding issues other than Kashmir. An opportunity for friendship should not be lost, he stressed.
But the Prime Minister accepted the Opposition’s advice for caution in the peace initiative. “Hum doodh ke jale hain, chaach bhi phook-phook kar piyenge (Having burnt our fingers once, we will be extra careful now),” he said, adding that friendship should be maintained “to the extent possible”.
Vajpayee ruled out resuming sporting links with Pakistan till a conducive atmosphere was created.
Dismissing a suggestion from Mulayam Singh Yadav for India and Pakistan coming together to form a confederation, Vajpayee said “a confederation of the two countries is not possible.”
But he pointed out that countries of the world were coming together and even east European nations, which were part of the erstwhile Soviet bloc, were joining the European Union.