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Test Pak rulers on peace: Benazir

Former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto said on Saturday that Indo-Pak tensions can be reduced only if democracy is restored to Pakistan.

india Updated: Dec 15, 2003 10:46 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said on Saturday that Indo-Pak tensions can be reduced only if democracy is restored to Pakistan. She urged caution over the "overt" peace statements by Pakistan's military rulers.

'PM’s proposals unrealistic'

 Pakistani PM Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali said on Friday night Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's proposals on a common currency and open borders in South Asia were unrealistic. "It took Europe a long time before they settled for the euro. It is not so easy to do and will take time," he told reporters.

When asked about prospects of normalisation of relations with India, Jamali said Pakistan was pursuing a positive approach towards India for the settlement of  issues, including the core issue of Kashmir. "I am an optimist, a practical man and hope (India's) response will be positive," he said.

(Mubashir Zaidi, Islamabad)

"I'm one of those who believe that democracies do not go to war against other democracies," Benazir said in her keynote address at the 'Peace Dividend - Progress for India and South Asia', a conference organised by the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative here.

This session of the conference was moderated by television anchor Karan Thapar. They have been friends since the 1970s, when she was the president of the Oxford Union and Thapar her counterpart at Cambridge.

The former Prime Minister based her observation on the historical record of war between India and Pakistan. "Since Independence, the three wars between India and Pakistan took place under military dictatorships. And since the destabilisation of the democratic government that I led in 1996, India and Pakistan have come close to war three times," she pointed out while claiming credit for initiating landmark initiatives for peace during her tenures as Prime Minister.

The exiled former Pakistani Premier suggested that peace overtures by the military leadership cannot be taken at face value and a dialogue is necessary to test their intentions.

"We believe that the military rulers' overt statements for normalisation of relations must be put to test. If it (their intent) is false, they will be exposed before the bar of public opinion. If it is true, the benefit will go to the people in the region," she said.

However, while urging caution, the former Prime Minister made it clear that the Pakistan People's Party, which she leads, welcomes talks between New Delhi and Islamabad "despite the military dictatorship in my country". People are dissatisfied, she said, with the continuing confrontation.

She said the Pakistan Prime Minister's position is presently ceremonial and that the man who wields real power is the President and Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf. She advanced this reasoning to suggest a meeting between Prime Minister Vajpayee and General Musharraf when the former visits Islamabad shortly for the Saarc Summit.

But Benazir refrained from launching a personal attack on General Musharraf.

Where she did not hold back was in her praise of Prime Minister Vajpayee, whom she described as a "man of many surprises", giving him credit for doggedly pursuing peace despite the undermining of bus diplomacy and the failure of the Agra summit.

The PPP leader also appreciated New Delhi's restraint in the face of militant attacks aimed at undermining the ceasefire. "New Delhi did not make these violent incidents an excuse to mar the ceasefire," she acknowledged.

On Kashmir, she expressed the view that the territorial dispute should not be allowed to hold the Indo-Pak relationship to ransom.

This, incidentally, has also been the Indian position for a long time. She suggested that there were lessons to be learnt from the Sino-Indian experience.

"China and India have a border dispute but they do not threaten each other with war. In fact, relations between the two countries keep improving," she said, strongly suggesting that India and Pakistan move ahead towards a better relationship "without prejudice to their differing positions and perceptions (on Kashmir)".

Warning against the real danger of militants attempting to derail the peace process, she said the leaders of India and Pakistan need to discuss ways of having borders "which are soft and also safe".

The exiled Pakistani leader commended the Hurriyat Conference and indicated that her party, the PPP, considered them an integral element of the political resolution of the Kashmir issue.

"The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has an important role to play in facilitating peaceful conditions in Srinagar as indeed in Muzaffarabad whose parties are also part of the APHC," she said.

Terming Indo-Pak trade as "ridiculously low", she cited estimates of a $14 billion annual trade potential between the two countries. She said that trade be made "an adjunct of the peace process instead of being constrained by it".

First Published: Dec 14, 2003 00:00 IST