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WEB-ONLY EXCLUSIVE
Conversations: 'Pakistan Supports the Kashmir Struggle Diplomatically, Politically, Morally'
Web-only interview with Pakistan's High Commissioner in New Delhi Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
By MASEEH RAHMAN

October 10, 2000
Web posted at 11:00 a.m. Hong Kong time, 11:00 p.m. EDT


Ashraf Jehangir Qazi has been Pakistan's High Commissioner in New Delhi for more than three years. Relations between both countries during that time have been shaky, to say the least. Qazi spoke to TIME contributor Maseeh Rahman in New Delhi recently. Edited excerpts:

 CONVERSATIONS
Web-only interviews with South Asia's opinion makers

Visit the Conversations Archive in TIME Asia's Web Features for more interviews with South Asia's opinion makers

TIME: India is not willing to engage in talks with Pakistan at the moment as it feels Islamabad betrayed the trust that was built up at the Lahore Summit last year by sending armed intruders into Kargil. New Delhi feels that talks cannot begin until Islamabad acknowledges that it committed a wrong. Your view?
Qazi: This is a self-serving argument, which has no basis in fact. If you have problems with someone, you discuss them. If you have serious reservations about the policies of another country, you can always take it up in talks. You can't make the resolution of your concerns the precondition for talks, because the end result of that would be no talks. As far as trust is concerned, that has to emerge from an engagement with each other. Our perception of the Kargil crisis is totally different [from India's]. But the crisis did take place within the context of the enduring Kashmir dispute. And if that is not addressed, then the question of trust emerging between the two countries doesn't even arise.

TIME: New Delhi sees General Pervez Musharraf as being mainly responsible for the Kargil intrusions. New Delhi also believes it is difficult to talk to a general who has overthrown a democratically elected government.
Qazi: What matters is how the people of Pakistan view General Musharraf. They understand the circumstances under which he emerged as chief executive. They've endorsed the domestic agenda of his government. They've taken note of the fact that the Supreme Court has validated the regime, and that now there is a timetable for a return to democracy. Once the people of Pakistan are satisfied, it is not for any external power to say they can or cannot engage [in talks] with the government.

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TIME: Is it unreasonable for New Delhi to tell Islamabad, 'Stop the armed incursions into Kashmir, then we can talk?'
Qazi: First, the allegations are inaccurate and baseless. Secondly, Pakistan has proposed to expand and make more effective the United Nations observer group [in Kashmir] so that they can check the veracity of these allegations. Thirdly, so far as there's an armed insurrection in Indian-administered Kashmir, it is the result of the unspeakable human and political rights situation there. Pakistan supports the struggle diplomatically, politically, morally. We are a recognized party to the dispute and are entitled to oppose by all lawful means the illegal suppression by force of a legitimate freedom struggle.

TIME: But now even Pakistani journalists are reporting how the ISI [Inter- Services Intelligence, Pakistan's military intelligence agency] is arming and assisting the insurgents to cross the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir. Isn't Washington also asking Pakistan to stop assisting the insurgents materially?
Qazi: These stories are highly motivated, highly distorted, exaggerated, and largely false. To the extent that there is any crossing of the LOC, it is impossible for Pakistan to seal it off. Pakistan is not assisting them. If there's an allegation to that effect, then Pakistan is proposing that the United Nations observer group or any international group with credibility should verify these charges. Moreover, these charges are meant to distract attention from the problem, which is the suppression of the Kashmiri people against their will.

TIME: Both General Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee were in the U.S. recently. Is there any hope that the U.S. might be able to assist the two countries with their dispute?
Qazi: We're open to any possibility. We're ready for dialogue, as our chief executive has said, at any time, any place, anywhere. We recognize that India and Pakistan have seldom shown the capability of resolving their own problems. Whenever there's been any progress, it has been because of a friendly country. And we feel the U.S., or any other country which has good relations with both India and Pakistan, has a role to play. In this shrinking world, taking note of the developments in the subcontinent, including the fact that we've gone nuclear, these countries have a right to feel concerned. If they can bring about a sincere, substantive, meaningful, result-oriented dialogue between India and Pakistan on all issues, particularly the central issue of Jammu and Kashmir, that's great.

TIME: Did the U.S. play a role in the move recently to have talks between New Delhi and the Kashmiri insurgent group the Hizbul Mujahedin?
Qazi: I've no knowledge of any U.S. role. It seems to have been an entirely Kashmiri initiative. We saw it as such and said it represented a window of opportunity, and that India needed to build upon it. Unfortunately, India responded in a manner as if it saw an opportunity for the elimination of a major element of the freedom struggle, the Hizbul Mujahedin itself. India was simply not willing to take part in genuine dialogue, and sought to bring about a laying down of arms by the Hizbul Mujahedin. That led to the collapse of the initiative.

TIME: Selig Harrison [an American expert on South Asia] wrote recently that five Pakistan Army generals, who were close to Islamic fundamentalist groups, sabotaged the latest peace initiative in Kashmir.
Qazi: Very few people in Pakistan share Selig Harrison's views. I don't think we need attach much significance to him, especially when he talks about internal developments in Pakistan about which he has no proper information. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan had nothing to do with the initiative for the talks, or with its end.

TIME: Is the warming Indo-U.S. relationship affecting Pakistan's own interests in the region?
Qazi: We do not see Indo-U.S. relations in a zero-sum context. Today, India is moving into a new and good phase in its bilateral relations with the U.S. Pakistan does not see this as impinging negatively on its own relations with the U.S. On the contrary, to the extent that the U.S. has more influence with New Delhi, we feel that influence can be utilized usefully in the interests of peace and stability in the region. Pakistan has a long-standing relationship with the U.S., which is not to say we don't have our differences. Even today we recognize -- as the Americans say -- that it's not business as usual with Pakistan because of the temporary departure from constitutional democratic norms. But the Americans have been very understanding of the people's reaction to the situation, and have been willing to extend support to the government to return Pakistan to participatory, sustainable, and stable democracy. Although our present relations with the U.S. are less than completely normal, and India's relations improving, that contrast can give the illusion of a shift. But we see no shift, because on fundamental issues, particularly with regard to the root cause of the tension between India and Pakistan, there is no change in the situation.

TIME: Does Pakistan remain a strategic ally for the U.S.?
Qazi: We continue to be in a strategically important location, appreciated by many countries including the U.S. We are satisfied with our relationship with the U.S., which may not be problem-free, but is nonetheless a healthy relationship. We both understand each other. We are in no way disturbed by the improving quality of Indo-U.S. relations.

TIME: Washington was hopeful that Pakistan would be able to influence the Taliban on the Osama bin Laden [the Saudi terrorist wanted by the U.S.] issue. But even a year after coming to power, General Musharraf has not been able to visit Afghanistan. What's the problem?
Qazi: There's no problem. We don't pretend to exercise disproportionate or undue influence in any neighboring country, including Afghanistan. We recognize certain realities in Afghanistan -- the Taliban are in control of 98% of the country. We urge the U.S. and other nations to engage with the government in Afghanistan. We don't necessarily agree with their interpretation of Islam, [but] we engage with them, and convey the concerns of other countries. The Taliban do not regard themselves as extremists or a destabilizing force [in the region].

TIME: So you're not concerned about the export of Islamic extremism from Afghanistan?
Qazi: We do not believe the charge against the Taliban that they're exporting any kind of extremism from Afghanistan. The Taliban are totally concerned with consolidating and stabilizing their governance and reviving the Afghan economy. They have no time to concern themselves with matters beyond Afghanistan.

TIME: Would you say that Russian and Chinese fears in this regard are misplaced?
Qazi: We simply believe the Taliban are not engaged in destabilizing any other country.

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