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'I dream about Pak being India's force multiplier'

Updated on May 23, 2008
 

Following up on Pakistan's commitment of working for 'grand reconciliation' with India, the ruling Pakistan People's Party on Thursday made two proposals -- reduction of army's presence in Jammu and Kashmir and creation of economic zones along the Indo-Pak border.

The PPP, however, suggested that any cuts in the army's deployment in Jammu and Kashmir could be compensated by India through deployment of more paramilitary forces and police which would be 'more humane' and help in addressing the '60-year-old wound' of the Kashmir issue.

"We would appreciate the de-escalation of Indian troops in Kashmir and bringing normalcy in Kashmir. The army by design, wherever it is, by its nature is crude -- whether it is your army or any other army," PPP Chairman Asif Ali Zardari told PTI in a wide-ranging interview.

Zardari, who led the party to victory in the February 18 elections after his wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December last year, responded to questions on the Kashmir issue, Indo-Pak composite dialogue process and the controversy over reinstatement of judges.

The PPP chief said his 'model for India-Pakistan relations' is to create economic zones along the border, use Pakistan's coal reserves in Thar to generate power that could be exported to India and even acquire gas from 'friendly Muslim countries' that could be supplied to India.

Replying to a question on how Pakistan and India could build trust and confidence while trying to resolve the dragging Kashmir dispute, Zardari said the army's presence in Kashmir 'is increasing the divide rather than patching it up'.

Zardari said, 'my dream is that Pakistan is the force multiplier for India. We had one country, one nation.'

"If you had a police force there, even if it was 500,000-strong, police training is different and they have to go back to their wives. They don't have to go back to their cantonments and they live in the normal world," the 52-year-old leader said.

"Whereas the cantonment world is a different world, so they are a different species. You have a war machine living there, so there are lots of reactions to those people sitting there. So India can move out the army and move in paramilitary forces.

"They will be more humane. There is already a 60-year-old wound and you scratch it... even that erupts into a reaction."

After talks with his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee in Islamabad to review the composite dialogue process, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had said on Wednesday that Pakistan was ready for 'grand reconciliation' on outstanding issues with India, which need to be resolved through dialogue with 'self respect and dignity'.

India and Pakistan have observed a ceasefire along the frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir since November 2003. During the talks, the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to 'safeguard' the truce in the wake several incidents of firing on Indian troops.

Asked if he saw economics as being the driving force in bilateral relations, Zardari replied, "Yes, I can't afford 180 million people with the poverty level today, but I have got water, millions of acres of virgin lands´┐Ż I can feed India and the world."

"On the border with India, I have got gas and oil. I can convert all that into product and market it to myself and to India. Then, I have a 1,100-mile coastline, which is virgin," the PPP chief said.

"You can't expand Kolkata port. With today's technology, I can make 20 deep sea ports and an economic zone in Gwadar. I can have high speed cargo trains, have a 17-18 hour turnaround period from your railway lines and the products will be available to you. You cannot put up gas containers on Mumbai beach, but I can put up (on the Pakistani coastline) any number of gas containers (and acquire gas from) all sorts of friendly Muslim countries where I, the PPP and the government of Pakistan have influence. And we dovetail it, we create economic zones owned by the people," Zardari said.

"All I need is a system where I can work and I cannot work if there is an impasse between the constitution, between myself and the president. I'd rather go now than take all the difficult decisions and go after 15 months or two years."

Replying to a question if he expected progress on such issues when the two countries have been unable to resolve a host of trade-related matters, he said: "Talk to me next year, either I am here in power and we will talk about the progress that I have made or I won't be here -- one of the two."

Zardari also pointed out that he and his main ally PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif the 'two largest political forces' in Pakistan wanted to do away with visa restrictions for India.

This would facilitate people-to-people contacts, boost economic cooperation and even help improve the atmosphere for resolving the Kashmir issue, Zardari said.

The two countries could increasingly use modern technology to track the movement of their citizens if visas were done away with.

"My contention is let's introduce modern technology and use (biometrics and fingerprints to track people who are allowed) to come in without a visa. You just walk in and find a modern technology which makes sure we are not making mischief there and you are not making mischief here," he said.

Zardari said fears about Pakistan being taken over by India are an 'old cliche used by the Cold War warriors' to blackmail the people.

"Britain and France fought for a thousand years, Germany and France still have an issue with their border. But can you say that Europe is not united? Can you say that Germany is going to take over France? So to assume that Pakistan is going to be taken over by India is the old cliche used by the Cold War warriors and (people are) being blackmailed by their mindset," Zardari said.

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