Issues like commerce should precede Kashmir: Advani
Senior BJP leader LK Advani has said Pakistan's insistence on describing the Kashmir problem as the "core issue" in bilateral ties "would not achieve anything" and wanted other matters like commerce to precede it.
Advani, the leader of opposition in Parliament, said although he encouraged the composite dialogue process between India and Pakistan, he believed that other issues, like information and commerce, should precede Kashmir.
"Kashmir later," he said in an interview to Dawn News, Pakistan's leading English news channel, to be aired on Sunday night.
Although the Kashmir problem would take time to resolve, Advani was optimistic that a day would come when India and Pakistan would form a confederation to solve the issue.
He stressed that cross-border terrorism is a serious bone of contention in the India-Pakistan peace process.
While acknowledging that militancy had decreased along the borders, he said it was still there in India. Advani was of the view that until this problem is dealt with, there could be no progress in the peace process.
The former deputy prime minister spoke on a wide range of issues in the interview, including communalism, prospects of peace between India and Pakistan and the 2001 Agra Summit.
Advani said he was "incorrectly" blamed for the summit's failure by President Pervez Musharraf.
Far from being the cause of its failure, Advani said he was in fact one of the architects of the summit. According to him, it was Musharraf's inflexibility that led to the meeting's failure.
"Musharraf just would not admit that there is any such thing like terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, or in Punjab, which has been inspired by him or his country. And he maintained that what was happening in Jammu and Kashmir or in other parts of the country.... Cannot be called terrorism," Advani said.
Asked why diplomacy was not initially used to solve the Kargil crisis of 1999, he said it was not diplomacy that resolved the issue, but intervention by the US.
He believed it was a "war of a kind" in which "Pakistan refused to accept its own dead bodies". He also implied that Pakistan had capitulated before the US while India had not.
Advani also spoke at length about his party's communal image and its role in nationhood. He implied that religion was inherent in any democracy since it is "a considerable part of life".
"The role of religion is not much. But it is considerable in life. In a democracy religion is important. In a communist state, it isn't," he said.
Advani consistently denied accusations of playing the communal card.
Asked to comment on his support to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi after the riots in the state in 2002, Advani referred to the onslaught the Sikh community faced after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984.
Advani said, "They were not riots. Not a single Hindu was killed. About 3,500 Sikhs were killed. Congress said, 'So what? When a huge tree falls, the earth is bound to shake.'
"How can I find fault with the (Gujarat) government then? I am bound to say that this is not fair to the Gujarat government and this is why I defend it."
Responding to a question on whether the Gujarat killings followed an "action-reaction" logic to the death of Hindu 'kar sevaks' in the train burning incident at Godhra, he said he agreed to the suggestion to some extent.
Asked if Pakistan's status as an Islamic republic bothered India, Advani said "a theocratic state does bother us...It does."
But he insisted that Jinnah was inherently a secular leader and if his speech of August 11, 1947 had been implemented, Pakistan too would be a secular state.
Advani said the BJP's hardline resolution on Pakistan following his 2006 visit to the country was because Jinnah's speech "was pushed beneath the carpet".
Advani also clarified his stand on the Ayodhya issue. He said while he stood by the Ayodhya movement for the construction of the Ram temple and had embraced it, he was saddened by the demolition of the Babri mosque.
The BJP's subsequent electoral victory, he said, was because the Ayodhya movement, not the demolition, reflected the people's aspirations.
"I believe a temple should have been built at the site. But the demolition disturbed me," he said.