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Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary Shri Shyam Saran on the Visit of President Musharraf

April 16, 2005

OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON (SHRI NAVTEJ SARNA): It is with great pleasure that I welcome the Foreign Secretary accompanied by the High Commissioner, Mr. Shiv Shankar Menon for this briefing. Foreign Secretary will address the press. Since we also have people here who are not usually here, I just want to let you know we will follow a list. Please indicate your interest in asking questions. We will try to accommodate the maximum.

FOREIGN SECRETARY (SHRI SHYAM SARAN): Thank you very much. Good afternoon to all of you.

In a short while from now, we will be welcoming President Musharraf and Begum Sehba as our very honoured guests. External Affairs Minister Mr. K. Natwar Singh will be receiving them at the airport. We are looking forward to a very friendly and a very successful visit with a constructive and forward-looking result. We trust that our respective cricket teams will put forward an exciting display of their cricketing skills and sportsmanship tomorrow morning.

Of course, this visit also provides an opportunity for leaders to meet and discuss matters of mutual interest and concern. They will, of course, be having this opportunity both socially. Prime Minister, as you know, will be hosting a dinner in honour of President Musharaf and Begum Sehba this evening. But, tomorrow there will be also an occasion for them to talk to each other during the forenoon after they have seen the first part of the cricket match.

As our Prime Minister has pointed out, when two leaders meet, they can talk about whatever they wish to talk about. We have no hesitation in discussing whatever may be of interest to President Musharraf. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this visit takes place after a year and a half of a very intense dialogue process that has been continuing between the two countries. We have, I think, very much of an improved atmosphere in the relationship between the two countries. We have put in place a number of confidence building measures. The contacts between the peoples of the two countries has been probably on a scale which is unprecedented. Our High Commissioner is having a major problem in trying to keep up with visa applications. He is issuing about ten thousand visas a month, if I am not mistaken. When a cricket match takes place, he is under a greater degree of pressure but that is all for a good cause.

Even on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, we have had a major breakthrough in the shape of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service which, despite threats from the terrorists, has gone ahead successfully. Our Prime Minister has a vision, which he has articulated, of a world where borders become less and less relevant. We look forward to a time when there will be much freer traffic across the borders, across the Line of Control; there will be greater transport linkages, cultural exchanges; there would be perhaps even the people of the two sides getting together to look at shared problems of the environment. There are a number of areas in which there could be very fruitful exchanges between the two sides.

I think it is with that vision that Prime Minister would be talking to his honoured guest. As I said, we have every reason to believe that against this background of a much more improved relationship, much greater interaction between the peoples of the two countries, and the fact that on the eve of his visit to India we have heard some very positive statements also coming from Pakistan, coming from President Musharraf himself.

Our Prime Minister also has in his public statements spelt out what our vision is of taking this relationship forward. So, we believe that all this augurs very well for this forthcoming visit; it will be a very informal, relaxed visit celebrating the cricketing bonds between the two countries, and at the same time taking advantage of this opportunity to engage in a very wide-ranging and fruitful dialogue.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said that this is going to be a very friendly and fruitful visit. We are also getting news that some of the members of the official cultural delegation were denied visa by the Pakistan. How would you react to that?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: We have always believed that it is to the benefit of both countries to really celebrate the cultural affinities between us. I do not know the reasons why visa has not so far been granted to the cultural troupe which was supposed to visit Pakistan. But certainly I think our projection to our Pakistani friends would be that we welcome all their artistes, cultural personages and we would certainly hope that this would reciprocated from their side.

QUESTION: There are lots of pending issues like the Consulates have to be opened, which is pending. Mr. Menon is under pressure with all kinds of visa problems, manpower problems. When are the missions going to be restored to 100 per cent? What is the hitch? What is happening on Munabao-Khokhrapar front and what about the infrastructure problems?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: That is not really related to the visit as such because there is a mechanism through which all these pending issues that you are talking about are in fact being addressed. With regard to the opening of Consulates, rather reopening of the Consulates, we had shown some properties to our Pakistani friends in Mumbai. Perhaps they were not found suitable or they were very expensive. We have now requested the Maharashtra Government to please help us locate some other properties, which I believe has been done. I understand that very soon, perhaps, a team from the Pakistani High Commission will again be going to Mumbai to look at these properties. So, we are making every effort possible to get the Consulates reopened as early as possible.

With regard to the infrastructure that you have mentioned, yes, that is being looked at with great deal of priority. Mr. Menon heads a Mission which is very important. Its requirements have always had priority. So, we are taking all possible action in order to ensure that there is no lack of infrastructure in terms of space or in terms of personnel to enable the High Commission to do its job properly.

QUESTION: (Question in Hindi inaudible)…
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Hum log to yahi aasha karte hain ki jitni CBMs hum logon ne saamne rakha hai, sabpe sahmati ho jaye! Kyonki hamara yeh manna hai ki, jaise hamare Pradhan Mantri ne kaha hai, hum aisa mahaul banana chahte hain jisme ki yeh jo border hain, ya koi line hai, uska mahatva thoda kum hota jaye. Yeh hamara manna hai. Humne to kaafi saare CBMs table par rakhe hain. Aur hamara yeh manna hai ki, yeh CBMs agar laagu ki jayengi to usse bahut farak padega donon deshon ke rishton mein.


QUESTION: Both General Musharraf and Mr. Natwar Singh have stressed on the need of an out-of-the-box solution? What can be the out-of-the-box-solution?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think I just mentioned that we are looking at a vision of a relationship between the two countries where the borders become less and less important. I think that is already perhaps thinking away from our conventional way of handling relations between States.

QUESTION: In real terms, how does India interpret soft borders, the phrase used by General Musharraf? In real terms, not in philosophical terms.
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think President Musharraf was in a sense responding to something that we have been saying for some time. We are very happy that he accepts that the way forward is having softer borders. What does softer borders mean? It is precisely what I mentioned at the outset that it means that there should be much freer traffic across the borders; that people should find it very easy to come and go, meet their relatives; there should be very easy trade relations between the two sides; we should have very efficient transport linkages between the two sides. There may be certain common issues that people on both sides face. Are there ways in which we can address those problems, talk about those problems? There are cultural affinities between the peoples of the two sides. Is there some way that we can bring the peoples together through that cultural affinity, celebrate that cultural affinity between them? These are the things that constitute soft borders.

QUESTION: On the one hand we are talking about all this trade and the bus service and rail service and all that. As far as Washington is concerned, what message Washington and Pakistan are giving to India and to the international community by selling and receiving F-16s at this time of our relations? What message do you have for the NRIs? What can we make out of this all?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: As far as the issue of F-16s is concerned, I think India's position has been very clearly spelt out and I do not think it needs to be repeated again and again.

What is the message we received in Washington? The message was very clear that the United States of America feels very optimistic about the peace process which is taking place between India and Pakistan and supports fully the peace process.

The message we are getting from Pakistan? As I mentioned to you, we are very encouraged by the statements which President Musharraf himself has been making on the eve of his visit. That is why I am saying that the background to this visit is a very positive background because of the progress that has already taken place in the year and a half since the dialogue process has been resumed. Let us not forget that one and a half years is a rather short time. I think we should be proud about the fact that we have actually achieved quite a great deal in this one and half years. So, it is with a degree of optimism that we look forward to President Musharraf's visit and we believe that it would be a very successful visit.

QUESTION: Will the two leaders take up the Baglihar Dam issue? Is India prepared to amend its projected claim on Baglihar Dam so that the question could be resolved through bilateralism?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I do not wish to prejudge what the two leaders will be discussing. But, as far as the Baglihar Project is concerned, I think you should look at the repeated assurances given by the Indian side that it will not do anything which is in violation of the letter and spirit of the Indus Water Treaty. We attach a great deal of value to this treaty which has stood the test of time for the last forty-five years. We have also explained that the apprehensions which Pakistan may have about this particular Project, if there are certain technical objections that it has, we are ready to discuss it bilaterally. After all, we have been saying that the last round of technical discussions which were held seem to take us in the direction of some convergence. It was our belief that if we continued the discussions we could have perhaps enlarged the area of convergence. But it is Pakistan which decided that it wanted to take this matter to the World Bank. We consider that premature. So, we are prepared to engage in another round of technical discussions, if Pakistan is willing to do so.

QUESTION: Very broadly speaking, does India's changing relationship with China now have any bearing on your relationship with Pakistan?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: We believe that it is a win-win situation for all concerned. I think if there are good relations between India and China and there are good relations between China and Pakistan, I think it creates a positive ambience all around. It is something to be welcome by all of us.

QUESTION: Mr. Foreign Secretary, will there be a Joint Statement tomorrow? As there are expectations in making some concrete CBMs on Kashmir - like you had proposed when you went in December, about opening meeting points along the Line of Control, or a Jammu-Sialkot bus service? Would there be anything in the Joint Statement tomorrow?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Again, as I said, I do not wish to prejudge what would be the outcome of this visit. And, I do not wish to prejudge what would be the content of the discussions which the two leaders will have. Depending upon what is the tenor of those discussions, what the two leaders decide upon in terms of acceptance of certain confidence building measures, how to take the relationship forward, naturally if there is a Joint Statement it will reflect those decisions.

QUESTION: President Musharraf has changed the nature of this visit in a way because he had shown his willingness to come and watch cricket, then chose the venue and finally, just before he comes here, he makes complete statements on political test matches rather than the actual cricket series that is going on. Do you see him having scored a point by way of a calculated move?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I do not think we are in the business of scoring points with each other. I think there is a certain distorted view of how this has come about. President Musharraf, when he was asked, "There are cricket matches taking place in India. Would you like to watch one of these cricket matches?” he said, "Yes, it would be nice if I could watch this cricket match.” I think, as a friendly country, we lost no time in extending a friendly invitation to come to India and watch the cricket match. Now, where he should have watched the cricket match is a matter of detail. How does it matter whether the cricket match is watched in Bangalore or in Kochi or in Delhi? It just so happens that Delhi was the most convenient in terms of time scheduling, in terms of location for him to watch the one-day match. So, why read into it something that is not there. This is just a friendly gesture on our part to extend a friendly invitation to him. He is welcome anywhere, whether it is in Delhi or whether it is any other part of India. He is a honoured guest no matter where the visit takes place. So, I do not think that it is a question of his having determined the agenda, or having scored a point against us, no. We are very happy to receive President Musharraf not just to watch cricket, but if he would like to utilize this opportunity to engage in discussion with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, we have welcomed that opportunity because we believe that such an opportunity can only advance the cause of India-Pakistan friendship.

QUESTION: Between all this talk of camaraderie, is it not an embarrassment to India that its flag on President Musharraf's plane was turned upside down?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I am sorry I do not even know what you are talking about but I think we should go by the substance of our relationships rather than certain mistakes which have been inadvertently made by one side or the other. I do not think that is important.

QUESTION: (Question in Hindi inaudible)…
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Dekhiye, jahan tak sawal hai Kashmir ke logon ke jo aspirations hai usko khyal mein rakhna, hamara yeh kehna hai ki hamare yahan to election hain.
Representatives of the people have been elected by the people. When we are talking about an Indian public opinion, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and their aspirations, their opinions are very much part and parcel of the Indian public opinion. So, we are talking to the representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We have also said, we are prepared to talk to all those others who may not have come through the electoral route but who are willing to abjure violence, wish to contribute to peace and stability in the State. We are willing to talk to them as well: they are also our people. So, that is the concept with which we are going into this relationship. Pakistani leaders come, they meet any Hurriyat leaders - Well, we are a democratic country, we have no problem with these kind of meetings.

QUESTION: Musharraf sahab ek baat baar-baar keh rahe hain ki CBM ke mamle mein to gaadi bahut tej bhag rahi hai lekin Kashmir ke mamle mein gaadi vaheen ki vaheen atki hui hai. New York mein donon netaon ne jo position lee thi Kashmir ke issue par usko dekhte hue to kahin koi gaadi aage badhti hui dikhai nahin deti hai. To aapka is par kya kehna hai ki CBM par to gaadi tej bhag rahi hai …
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Dekhiye, yeh dhaarna galat hai ki
if you are looking at the Jammu and Kashmir issue, which is such a complex issue, which is an issue which has been on the horizon for the past more than 57-58 years, then it stands to reason that in addressing such an issue you need to build up a degree of confidence and trust between the two sides. After all, if there has to be a mutually acceptable understanding on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir between the two countries, we have to take our people along with us. Pakistan has to take its people along with it: India has to take its people along with it. How do you do that? You can only do that by enlarging the constituency of peace between the two countries; by giving people a stake in that peace process. And this is what we are trying to do. What is confidence-building measure, or what is people-to-people contact, except with the objective of enlarging that constituency of peace. This is not to say that we are putting aside the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, no. We are willing to talk about Jammu and Kashmir. But it should be understood that it is only through this process of creating a larger constituency of peace, greater public opinion in favour of peace, that we can achieve success.

In terms of whether gaadi aage chali hai ki nahin chali hai I think the record is there for everyone to see. So, even in terms of Jammu and Kashmir, what are we saying? We are saying, "Maybe it is difficult for us to change the lines which are drawn on the map. But as civilized countries, let us at least try and deal with, try to alleviate the negative human consequences of those lines drawn on the map.” Not just the Line of Control but even the border between India and Pakistan. Wherever the peoples of the two countries have come together, you have seen how much of affinity there is between them. There is a great groundswell of opinion in favour of peace both in India as well as in Pakistan. I think it is our responsibility to take this forward.

Text in italics is transliterated from Hindi.

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