Islamabad, Jan. 6: “Ladies and gentlemen, history has been made,” announced Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Musharraf today took a historic step to restart the dialogue between the two countries to settle all outstanding issues peacefully.
The composite dialogue will resume next month. This became possible after an assurance from Pakistan that it would not allow any territory under its control to be used for terrorist activities.
“After our meeting yesterday, the Prime Minister (Vajpayee) made a phone call on me this morning which sealed this final deal,” Musharraf said.
“We congratulated each other. We both showed resolve to move forward.... I wished him very good health and he wished me protection,” he said, laughing.
Even before the enormity of the decision sank in, both sides cautioned against claiming partisan victory.
“There are no winners or losers here. We must not get involved in who won and who lost. This is a victory of the people of India and the people of Pakistan. It is a victory for the people of Kashmir who have suffered for so long. It is a victory for the moderates in India and Pakistan,” Musharraf said.
Indian external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha voiced similar sentiments.
After cautiously denying the possibility of an agreement to resume the talks, the two sides announced the settlement through a joint statement.
“I would like to give total credit to his vision, his statesmanship which contributed so significantly towards this joint statement,” a strikingly upbeat Musharraf said of Vajpayee.
Apparently, many loose ends needed to be tied up before a statement could be agreed on. Vajpayee is understood to have consulted deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani after his meeting with Musharraf yesterday.
The statement said the two leaders were “confident that the resumption of the composite dialogue would lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir”.
Vajpayee had raised India’s terrorism-related concerns with Musharraf. He felt that “in order to take forward and sustain the dialogue process, violence, hostility and terrorism must be prevented”.
Musharraf assured Vajpayee that he would not permit “any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner”.
The definition of “any territory under Pakistan’s control” encompasses Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and this lent a new complexion to the assurance.
The level at which the dialogue will begin is to be decided later.
Emphasising that the discussion on Kashmir was important, Musharraf said he would take the people of Kashmir into confidence about the joint statement.
He said it had been decided that there would be simultaneous movement on three fronts: sustaining and enhancing confidence building measures, starting a composite dialogue on all issues, including Kashmir; and Pakistan’s assurance of preventing terrorism from territory under its control.
As if to underline the simultaneity of progress, Musharraf said: “The effectiveness of my word (on terrorism) will be enhanced if there is a movement forward.”
“Certainly, I don’t hold a whistle and I can never guarantee ceasefire (in Kashmir). One could facilitate as much as possible. I presume my word carries some weight,” he added.
Musharraf rejected a suggestion that the decision to restart the dialogue had been done under US pressure. “The deal between India and Pakistan was struck due to the leadership of the two countries. There is no room for any outside force.”
Musharraf warned against expecting ready-made solutions. “There is no magic wand or quick fixes to contentious issues.”
He felt India and Pakistan had to “move forward harmoniously by focusing on complementarities and convergences rather than divergences”.
Hardly anyone had expected that the breakthrough in Islamabad would be such as to kick off the dialogue so soon. The last composite dialogue was held in October 1998 and was interrupted by the Kargil conflict, of which Musharraf has been called by India as the architect.
The dialogue envisaged movement along several tracks simultaneously.
These include Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek boundary dispute, Wullar barrage/Tulbul navigation project, trade and commerce, peace and security and cultural and other exchanges.