Musharraf optimistic about visit outcome: Peace process 'fairly irreversible'

Posted in Broader Middle East | 15-Apr-05 | Source: (Pakistan)

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf (R) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

RAWALPINDI, April 14: President Pervez Musharraf said on Thursday he was optimistic that the Kashmir dispute could be resolved and described their peace process with India as 'fairly irreversible'.

Speaking in an interview with Reuters ahead of his first visit to India since a fruitless summit in Agra in July 2001, Gen Musharraf said: "I hope it doesn't turn out like Agra!"

He said the atmosphere for talks was now much better, but his weekend meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would have to concentrate on trying to get closer to a solution for the Kashmir dispute.

"I am fairly optimistic, I would say, because I see Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to be a sincere person and wanting to come to a resolution of this dispute. So if there is sincerity in the leadership, I think there can be progress."

The president said he did not expect an immediate breakthrough. "We cannot solve the issue, we cannot reach a conclusion, but if we make progress on it and we strike some common ground, that is what I would like to achieve and that is the maximum that one can expect."

Gen Musharraf said when he had travelled to India for the Agra summit, the environment had been 'tense'. "I go in a very harmonious and friendly environment now," he said, adding that Pakistan and India were now talking about cooperation on gas pipelines from Iran, Qatar and Turkmenistan.

He said his mother and son had been treated 'exceptionally well' when they visited India recently and added: "I only hope we can take advantage of this friendly environment to resolve our disputes."

Asked whether he felt the peace process was irreversible, he said a series of confidence-building measures (CBMs) had done a great deal to improve the mood. "If you see the people-to-people contacts, the business community, the media, the cultural interaction, even the politicians coming here exchanging from this side and going on that side, it is fairly irreversible I would say. "But if any side becomes intransigent with their views, I have made it very clear that all CBMs cannot be the final solution. Unless we move forward on the main issue of Kashmir, we cannot go on the path of CBMs only."

But he said he did not want to appear pessimistic by suggesting the whole process would be reversed. "I hope it doesn't come to that." Gen Musharraf said Pakistan had pledged a political resolution to Kashmiris, so it was a matter of principle. "One doesn't give up principles for the sake of any other expediency," he stressed.

Without elaborating, he said he planned to take up the Kashmir dispute immediately "because we don't have that much time" and because other issues were dealt with at a lower level.

"At the level of the leadership, at the summit level, the core issue of Kashmir needs to be addressed and moved forward." The president said that after the start of the bus service across the Line of Control this month, Pakistan would like to see more routes across the territory opened.

"That really is the first step towards converting it into a soft border," he said while stressing that India's wish to see the LoC converted into a permanent border was not acceptable. "I have made very clear to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that we cannot accept the Line of Control to be the final solution. We have to find an out-of-the box solution."

Last year, Gen Musharraf had suggested the possibility of solutions that could involve a division of the Muslim-majority region on ethnic lines, demilitarization and a change of its status to independence, joint control, or even the UN control. But Prime Minister Singh had rejected the proposals saying India would not agree to any redrawing of maps. The president declined to say if he would be bringing anything new to the table in India.

Asked how the impasse over Kashmir could be broken given India's position, he suggested there might be more to Delhi's position than met the eye. "I know that there is much more to it than what is up front. We know what their people are saying, but ... everything is not said up front."

DIRTY BOMB: Gen Musharraf said fears that terrorists could get their hands on nuclear weapons were unfounded. But, he said, it was possible they could get hold of a far less threatening 'dirty bomb' using enriched uranium and conventional explosives to spread radioactivity.

"My frank view is very different to all the concerns the world shows and my frank view is, no way, this cannot happen," he said when asked if he saw a risk of a terrorist obtaining a nuclear bomb.

"Something called a dirty bomb could go into their hands, but if we think that they can possess a bomb, they can make a bomb and possess it, that is not the case." The president said the proliferation by nuclear scientist Dr A.Q Khan had involved technology to enrich uranium to weapons grade. "But having done that, having got enriched uranium, its sawdust lying around, you ought to have very high technology available to you to make that into a bomb," he pointed out.

He said it had taken thousands of Pakistani scientists 30 years to produce nuclear weapons and make them portable. "I cannot imagine terrorists running over in the mountains, hiding in cities, to be able to put through all this chain to develop a bomb; I don't think so at all."

He said Dr Khan was a metallurgist and an expert on the centrifuge technology needed to enrich uranium. "The remaining steps he is not the expert on and they are equally, if not more, hi-tech."

Gen Musharraf said someone trying to build a trigger mechanism for a nuclear bomb from scratch would end up with an enormous device perhaps two metres in diameter. "How do you carry that? It's the size of that sofa," he said, pointing across the room at his military residence.

"Whatever I am saying is after I analyzed this through our own scientists. I have seen and I have talked to them and I am very sure that we overdo this hype. "I feel the West is overly concerned about this aspect."

He said a dirty bomb would produce radioactivity in the area of the explosion, which might be 50 or 100 metres in diameter. "It will get contaminated. It can be cleaned - maybe there will be some casualties - but it is not a nuclear explosion. That is not going to take place."

The president said he did not know if the centrifuge parts Pakistan said it had agreed to provide to UN investigators trying to determine whether Iran's nuclear programme was peaceful or aimed at producing weapons had been delivered. "Frankly, until about two weeks back, they had not gone; but since then, frankly, I am not sure," he said. -Reuters