Kashmir issue there, but let’s focus on trade: Pakistan

April 8th, 2008 - 9:00 pm ICT by admin  

Islamabad/New Delhi, April 8 (IANS) Ahead of talks with India later this month, Pakistan Tuesday asserted that the Kashmir issue continues to be on top of its agenda, but it will not prevent it from increasing bilateral trade as part of a strategy to move from “conflict management to conflict resolution”. “The Kashmir issue is on the agenda in the composite dialogue. It’s one of the top issues after peace and security and stability. It will remain so,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the Dawn news channel.

“On the other hand, we feel that there are areas where we need to move on to our mutual benefit and advantage like trade,” he said.

“So let’s call a spade a spade, and if enhanced trade can be used as an important confidence-building (measure) to create a more enabling environment for our movement from conflict management to conflict resolution, we should not shy away from that,” he said.

Saying that bilateral trade through official channels was worth over a billion dollars, he added that this figure did not reflect much bigger “informal” trade between the two countries.

Qureshi’s remarks echo India’s position on increasing trade and other confidence-building measures to create an atmosphere for resolving outstanding issues between the two countries.

“No, there is no question of putting the Kashmir issue on the backburner. What we plan to do is we have been approaching this problem from a particular angle,” he replied when asked if such an approach entailed putting the Kashmir issue on the backburner for a while.

“What we plan to do is we have been approaching this problem from a particular angle. Let’s try a different approach. We’re not forgetting Kashmir,” said Qureshi, a senior leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

“How can we forget Kashmir? Kashmir is important for us. It’s a very emotive issue within Pakistan. We will not forget it, we cannot forget it.”

Alluding to the recent remarks of PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari that the Kashmir issue should be set aside for resolution by future generations, Qureshi asserted that his party leader had been “misquoted”.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, a former Indian envoy to Pakistan, is likely to travel to Islamabad later this month to review the progress of the fourth round of composite dialogue with his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Mohammad Khan.

The two sides will launch the fifth round of composite dialogue after the foreign secretary-level review of the last round.

It will be followed by a visit by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Islamabad in May or June.

Calling for “a greater understanding” between the two countries for peace and stability in South Asia, Qureshi said: “We are neighbours, there are many areas where we can work in harmony, where we can cooperate with each other and benefit this region and our people.”

“The new government thinks that the people of Pakistan and people of the subcontinent deserve a better quality of life. There is poverty and hunger here and we have to address these issues,” he said.

In his first remarks on the peace process with India after becoming the foreign minister, Qureshi also sought a “just and equitable” resolution to the contentious Kashmir issue.

He, however, set a positive tone for the peace process, saying Pakistan wants “friendly relations with India” and there are “signals of reciprocity” from the other side.

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