By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India correspondent
Former Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf salutes upon his arrival at the airport in New Delhi March 6, 2009. Musharraf on Friday arrived in India to participate in a conclave of leaders being organized by an Indian media group.
NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the Indo-Pak tension over terrorism, former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was here last week in a relaxed mood. He arrived here on Friday on a brief visit, primarily to attend the two-day India Today conclave. He was the chief guest at the conclaveâ€™s dinner session, the theme of which was: â€œThe Challenges of Changeâ€ (March 7). While delivering the keynote address, Musharraf said that despite having been advised not to come for the meet, even by his daughter, by those fearing extremist reactions in both the countries, he chose to come. â€œI decided to come to prove a point that the extremists should not have their way. We moderates must stand united for the resolution of all issues and disputes between us for everlasting peace, we must not allow extremists to create obstacles in the way of peace,â€ he said. The reality was that people of Pakistan are for peace, â€œbut peace with honor and dignity, not through coercion,â€ he said.
During his address, Musharraf compared the controversial Line-of-Control (LoC) with the Berlin wall. The 700-km-long LoC divides Kashmir into India-occupied state and Pakistan-occupied. â€œThis (LoC) is another Berlin Wall. It needs to be torn down,â€ he said.
â€œThe 19th century was the European century, the 20th century was the American century and the 21st century is the Asian century,â€ he said. The three most serious challenges facing India and Pakistan were the curse of terrorism and extremism, poverty and hostility between the two countries, he said. â€œKashmir remains the key dispute,â€ where a peaceful struggle had turned violent, Musharraf emphasized.
â€œThe situation demands bold and affirmative action. We must overcome the burden of history to move forward and work for the future and cooperate to rise together. For the sake of the toiling masses of the two countries,â€ Musharraf said. With India and Pakistan having â€œdone enough damage to other,â€ by fighting three wars, a number of â€œmini-warsâ€ and a constant cold war, Musharraf asserted: â€œUnless boldness is there, sincerity or meaningfulness is not possible. Solutions are possible if our â€˜neeyatâ€™ (intention) is correct.â€
Musharraf was last here around four years ago. Unfazed by Indo-Pak ties being tensed, soon after his arrival, Musharraf said: â€œI am feeling very relaxed. Very good.â€ Keen to make up for what he had not been able to do earlier in his official visits, when asked on what was his agenda this time, he said: â€œI will prefer going to restaurants, see Jama Masjid and other historic places. I will have a more relaxed time. I want to go to restaurants, see people and move among common people.â€
â€œItâ€™s strictly a private visit. There is no meeting planned with anyone in the government,â€ sources said on the nature of Musharrafâ€™s visit. Though Musharraf was given the due diplomatic courtesies and the necessary security cover, the Indian government kept his visit a low-key affair.
Ahead of leaving for New Delhi, Musharraf laid stress on the need for India and Pakistan to adopt a â€œnew path of peace and harmony.â€ â€œWe are facing terrorism and extremism as a common threat to the whole world, the region, Pakistan and India. That is what we need to discuss and find solutions (and work) towards a resolution,â€ he said. Giving emphasis to â€œprogressâ€ having made on the Kashmir issue, during his tenure as President, Musharraf said: â€œWe should begin from that again and take things forward.â€
Describing the present century as one of geo-economics, at an interactive lunch organized by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham), Musharraf said: â€œIt is the economy which will drive nations towards development and people towards their welfareâ€ (March 8). Giving stress to it being imperative for India and Pakistan to expand their ties and claim their place in the Asian century, Musharraf asked: â€œThis century is going to be an Asian century. Are we South Asians (India and Pakistan) ready to be part of this Asian century?â€ Musharraf compared economies of South Asia with those of China and Southeast Asia and stated: â€œWe are out of the loop (economic progress) because of the conflict between India and Pakistan.â€ At this time of global meltdown it was important for India and Pakistan to resolve their disputes, as economic progress would benefit both the countries, he said. Referring to Pakistanâ€™s geo-strategic location, which gave it the â€œpotential to become a trade and energy corridor for the region,â€ Musharraf said: â€œIt has always been my belief for Pakistan to act as a trade and energy corridor. This will be realized if we resolve our disputes and start an era of harmony, peace and friendship.â€ Observing that economic ties between India and Pakistan were being held hostage to their disputes, Musharraf said: â€œWe can have permanent peace through the resolution of disputes. Peace and harmony are preconditions to improving business ties.â€
Musharraf visited Delhiâ€™s historic mosque Jama Masjid and the Mazar (Mausoleum) of the Sufi saint Hazrat Khawaja Nizamuddin Aulia on Sunday. He also sent a speedy recovery message and a bouquet to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was recently discharged from hospital. Before embarking on his visit, Musharraf had said that he had no plans to meet any Indian leaders as this was not a political visit, but Vajpayee. â€œVajpayee is ill and if I get an opportunity, I would like to meet him,â€ he had said. A message from Vajpayeeâ€™s office said: â€œHe (Musharraf) has attached a personal note with flowers wishing the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leader a speedy recovery.â€
Amid the backdrop of the new chill in Indo-Pak ties over New Delhi holding Pakistan-based militants responsible for the Mumbai terror strikes last year in November, the diplomatic importance of Musharrafâ€™s visit cannot be simply ignored. It would have been a different situation, if India had decided not to allow his visit and/or if Musharraf had refused to be here. Thus, though a short visit, viewed strictly as â€œprivate,â€ that it took place apparently indicates that back channel diplomatic options are being exercised to convey the message that Indo-Pak ties should not be viewed as totally and absolutely off track!