Dec. 19: The Pakistan government today began a delicate as well as tortuous exercise to sell to a restive domestic audience and rebellious militant groups a Kashmir policy that need not be tied to a plebiscite.
A day after Pervez Musharraf made a surprise offer to set aside demands for a UN-mandated referendum on Kashmir if India showed flexibility, his information minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said the President has a “set of alternative proposals on issues like a plebiscite in Kashmir”.
“These alternative proposals will prevent a deadlock in implementation of the UN resolutions on Kashmir,” Ahmed said. “The proposals were not a substitute to the UN resolutions but they might remove difficulties that both countries can encounter while discussing the problem.”
Musharraf will soon take the Kashmiri leadership into confidence on the alternative plans, Ahmed added, his clarification coinciding with an outburst from militant groups active in Indian Kashmir and charges of betrayal by his political opponents.
The minister said Musharraf would raise the proposals when “serious talks” are held with India. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is scheduled to visit Islamabad for a Saarc summit in January but he has not yet committed on a meeting with Musharraf.
Delhi tried to pin Musharraf to the offer by saying “if there is any change or modification in Pakistan’s position, that is something which India will always welcome”.
In Islamabad, the focus was on stressing that the President’s offer was consistent with his previous policy statements. “It is his consistent statement that for resolution of an issue, we have to move away from our stated positions,” one of Musharraf’s aides told Reuters. Musharraf had unveiled the proposal yesterday during an interview with the same news agency.
The aide explained that moving away from Pakistan’s “stated position” clearly meant dropping the demand for a referendum, so Musharraf was merely spelling out an offer he had made before. “He is consistent in what he is saying, probably the public memory is short,” he said.
The amnesia seemed to have afflicted some in the political establishment, too. When Musharraf’s interview was being telecast, his Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali appeared to have been caught unawares and insisted on implementing the UN resolutions.
Over 40 hours after Musharraf’s interview was made public, foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri gave a spin to the President’s words. “We are for UN Security Council resolutions. However, now we have left that aside,” Musharraf had said.
But Kasuri said today that when Musharraf used the words “we have left that aside”, he meant that UN resolutions on Kashmir have not been implemented. “It does not mean that Pakistan has unilaterally dropped its demand based on the UN resolutions,” Kasuri added in comments that observers viewed as part of the posturing aimed at critics.
Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Niaz A. Naik said Musharraf could have had in mind an “understanding” between Vajpayee and then Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif in Lahore in 1999.
“They had reached a ‘secret’ understanding on the sidelines of the summit that Pakistan would stop insisting on a plebiscite,” Naik told The Telegraph. In return, said other sources, Delhi would back off its position that “Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian federation”.