India, Pakistan should focus on non-Kashmir issues: Sartaj Aziz (Interview)

March 11th, 2012 - 4:35 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 11 (IANS) Sartaj Aziz, a former Pakistani foreign and finance minister, says India and Pakistan should focus on resolving “doable non-Kashmir issues” like Siachen and Sir Creek and increase bilateral trade to $10 billion amid a renewed debate in his country on putting trade above what Islamabad calls “the core issue” of Kashmir.

“We should try to resolve non-Kashmir issues. On issues like Siachen and Sir Creek, a lot of work has been done. They are doable,” Aziz, who was Pakistan’s foreign minister at the time of the 1999 Kargil war, told IANS in an interview here.

“We have moved from confidence building measures (CBMs) to trade and now is the time to resolve these issues,” said Aziz, who was in India to attend the Asian Relations Conference on “Transforming South Asia” organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) at Sapru House.

“If we can resolve some of these issues, the atmospherics will be changed radically,” said Aziz, a Harvard-educated economist who is now vice-chancellor of Beaconhouse National University in Pakistan.

“Kashmir is a multi-dimensional problem. It can’t be resolved at one stroke. It will take some more time,” said the 83-year-old Aziz.

“Intra-Kashmir trade, CBMs and cross-LoC travel should increase to create the right atmospherics,” he said, reflecting a growing congruence of views between India and Pakistan on creating a soft border as a solution to the contentious Kashmir issue.

Aziz’s comments acquire added significance in view of the raging debate in Pakistan sparked by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s remarks earlier this week in which she voiced a desire on Pakistan’s part to recalibrate its relationship with India by giving trade and peace a chance. This was interpreted by some as Pakistan putting Kashmir on the backburner.

Pakistan’s foreign office, however, clarified Friday that it was not putting the “core issue” of Kashmir on the backburner as it works to normalise trade ties with India, and stressed that any final settlement between the two neighbours would be linked to realising the “aspirations of the Kashmiri people.”

Aziz struck an upbeat note about the prospects of stronger economic ties between India and Pakistan and stressed that the decision of Pakistan to grant the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status will help improve bilateral trade and create a larger constituency for peace.

“India has to fast-track the removal of non-tariff barriers. The MFN status will become formalised after India does its bit,” he said. He predicted that bilateral trade can more than triple to $10 billion in five years if both sides continue trade liberalisation.

An influential politician who opposed Pakistan’s nuclear tests in response to India’s Pokhran-II in 1998, Aziz underscored the necessity of greater economic integration in South Asia in the wake of the continuing global economic downturn.

“The only way to save ourselves from the adverse consequences of the global recession is to create our own internal dynamic blocs. If SAARC can become an ASEAN-like bloc, the prospects of growth and development in South Asia for the next decade are much better,” he said.

Reflecting the changed atmospherics in the India-Pakistan relations, Aziz said the constituency for peace has enlarged across both sides of the border. “The trust deficit has gone down. Across the border, people of both countries want peace. There is a positive opportunity to move the peace process forward.”

“There are extremist constituencies on both sides. Hawks are powerful in both countries. The civilian and democratic leadership has not done enough to bring them in line. We need a change of mindset across the spectrum,” stressed Aziz, also the author of “Between dreams and realities: some milestones in Pakistan’s history.”

Amid anxieties about the future of democracy and the fragility of the civilian government in Pakistan, Aziz said democracy was getting stronger in his country.

“Across the spectrum, all political parties are agreed that the military’s role in politics should be eliminated. The democratic roots are getting stronger,” he said.

“The military has learnt its lessons; there is an increasing realisation that the country came worse off after every spell of military rule. There is a greater mass support for democracy,” he said.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at

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