Monday, November 26, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Benazir for open borders
Tribune News Service

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (L) shakes hands with Sonia Gandhi
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (L) shakes hands with Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition, in New Delhi on Sunday. — Reuters photo

New Delhi, November 25
In a significant development, former Pakistan Premier Benazir Bhutto today asked Islamabad to “respond in a substantive way” to several Indian initiatives in Jammu and Kashmir, and suggested a broad-based bilateral relationship and creation of “safe and open borders” between the two neighbours.

Ms Bhutto, who arrived here today on a four-day visit, will hold talks with Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the current Indo-Pak ties as well as the situation in Afghanistan and the South Asian region.

Ms Bhutto’s visit, seen particularly in the backdrop of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in the USA and the subsequent developments in Afghanistan, is receiving a lot of attention in the diplomatic circles as both the timing as well as the meetings she is having here are a pointer to the developments taking place in the region.

Ms Bhutto, who has been invited by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), was received by senior protocol officers as well as representatives of the CII at Indira Gandhi International Airport.

The former Prime Minister, who is living in exile in the United Kingdom, held meetings with Mr Vajpayee, Home Minister L.K. Advani, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra.

At her meeting with Mrs Gandhi, Ms Bhutto discussed at length the prevailing Afghan situation, current situation in Pakistan, Kashmir and developments in the South Asian region. She agreed with Mrs Gandhi that the Simla Agreement concluded between her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi was the bedrock of the Indo-Pak ties.

Ms Bhutto is understood to have asked the Indian leaders to use their good offices with the USA and the world community to restore democracy in Pakistan.

During her 90-minute meeting with Mr Advani, she is understood to have conveyed that the chances of improvement of bilateral ties improved with the coming of Mr Vajpayee to power but General Musharraf had not used the opportunities offered by India.

Ms Bhutto is also scheduled to visit the dargah of a Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, on November 27.

Lauding New Delhi’s initiatives, including the unilateral ceasefire, release of some Kashmiri leaders and Mr Advani’s invitation to the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) for talks, she, in an interview to the “Line of Fire” programme on SAB TV to be telecast tomorrow, said, “These are initiatives that give the people of India and Pakistan an opportunity to work towards substantive peace and I hope that the opportunity will be fully utilised by us.”

Appreciating Mr Vajpayee and Mr Advani’s decision to meet her during her stay in India, Ms Bhutto said, “In the meeting with me, they made a gesture to the people of Pakistan. It shows they are reaching out to the people of Pakistan. They want their vision to be accepted, shared and debated with the people of Pakistan rather than just be foisted on them.”

While maintaining that the Kashmir issue was a major dispute between the two countries, the Pakistan leader said, “We are living in a totally new world. It is a new century, a new millennium. The world is moving in one direction and if India and Pakistan continue to squabble with each other, we can end up being marginalised. We owe too much to the people of South Asia to allow that to happen.”

“Irrespective of our differing views on Jammu and Kashmir, let us build safe and open borders. Let India and Pakistan sit down and see how they can replicate to some extent what happened in Middle East between Jordan and Israel, where they have safe and open borders despite the fact that there are militants who want to take advantage,” Ms Bhutto said.

She said it was a “do-able mission” depending on the will of the governments in India and Pakistan.

Strongly favouring a broad-based relationship between the two countries, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party said, “If we can somehow have negotiations without prejudice to our views on Jammu and Kashmir, may be when we work together, the wounds (would) heal.”

Ms Bhutto said had she been the Prime Minister, she would have dealt with the current situation in Afghanistan differently, utilised it as an engine of change and brought political and economic dividends to the people of Pakistan.

The experience of the past decade has shown that Islamabad’s interest in a “strategic depth” in Afghanistan has turned into a “strategic threat”, she pointed out.

“The pursuit of strategic depth has brought civil war to Afghanistan. It also brought foreign troops to our soil. It brought the whole spectre of terrorism and different elements brought destability to this region. It is far more important to have a stable Afghanistan than an unstable Afghanistan pursued in the theory of strategic depth”, she pointed out, adding that “we need to learn lessons from history and ensure that we avoid repeating our mistakes in future”.Back

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