| Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Shaukat Aziz in New Delhi on Tuesday. (AFP)
Islamabad, Nov. 23: Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf wants Congress president Sonia Gandhi to take a more 'proactive role' in thrashing out a consensus in India on the Kashmir dispute.
Speaking to The Telegraph at his Rawalpindi Army House residence, Musharraf said: 'Sonia Gandhi has a unique position in India. She is highly respected and holds an important position. If she takes a lead, I am confident that there will be a breakthrough in Indo-Pak ties.'
The President added: 'The good thing is that strictly speaking, she is not in the government. So she can work it out in a more informal way.'
Musharraf made a few other suggestions, too. 'She should try to involve every one ' her allies, the Left and the Opposition BJP.' Every leader reaches a 'peak' in his/her political career, he said, adding that Sonia was currently at her 'peak'.
Sitting in the Sun Room surrounded by his wife Saheba and mother, the President confessed that he was a big 'admirer' of Sonia. 'It is really remarkable the way she declined to be Prime Minister of India. I really admire her for that.'
Musharraf said he has invited Sonia and her two children ' Rahul and Priyanka ' to visit Pakistan. 'I am very keen on meeting them. I am sure they can play a big role in further normalising Indo-Pak relations.'
He said the Indian leadership must take a step forward to accelerate the peace process. 'I know a dispute of this nature cannot be resolved quickly. But all that I am saying is that please make efforts. Start a debate within your country, explore options.'
Wearing a grey suit with a lavender shirt, Musharraf said he saw little point in delaying the peace process. 'I am ready to negotiate. Let us start talking, let us meet. I am ready. Let us work out a timetable. I am prepared to meet in four days' notice.'
Musharraf said there was little point in blaming domestic compulsions for the delay.
'I know there are problems. There are fundamentalists, extremists here, and there are such sections in India, too. But then, what is leadership all about' Leadership often requires moving against the tide. Moreover, should we allow such fringe elements to derail the peace process'
Musharraf said he could 'sense' that the subcontinent was itching for a change.
'I have interacted with the Indian business community. They want to trade, exploit our markets and the same feeling exists among our entrepreneurs. But then, there cannot be commerce, cultural exchange in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and distrust,' he said, harping on the theme of peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute.
Referring to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Musharraf said he 'fully understood' the Indian leader's reluctance to divide Kashmir on communal lines.
'But the idea of seven regions that I talked about on the October 25 iftar was based upon ethnic and regional lines and not on grounds of religion,' he said.
The President said he found Singh to be sincere and committed to the peace process. 'I instantly built a great liking for him. He is honest and means what he says.'
Musharraf said his interaction with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, too, gave clear indications that the BJP was also keen on peace.
Asked if he had some more proposals for India, Musharraf said: 'I would not reveal my cards now. I want to see how the Indian government reacts. All that I have been saying is that I am prepared to take a step forward but it must match from the other side too. Let there be a mid-way.'
Berlin Wall warmth
Musharraf's comments came as Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz landed in India for a two-day visit. Aziz, who will meet the Indian Prime Minister tomorrow, got a welcome call from Singh.
'Who could say some 20 years ago that the Berlin Wall would be a thing of the past' Singh told Aziz, adding that his 'hope and prayer' is that 'we can set in motion a similar process in this subcontinent. I earnestly and sincerely will work to that end'.