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General Musharraf speaks to the BBC
"I go with an open mind to make it historic"
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Former editor Sunanda K Dutta Ray
"Unless Pakistan is engaged meanfully at many levels it might go the Afghanistan way"
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Monday, 28 May, 2001, 22:52 GMT 23:52 UK
Musharraf optimistic over talks
General Musharraf
The general says he will go to Delhi with an open mind
By Pakistan correspondent Susannah Price

The military leader of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, has said he is cautiously optimistic about the planned summit meeting with the Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in Delhi.

In his first interview since Mr Vajpayee made his offer for talks on Wednesday, General Musharraf told the BBC he was willing to be flexible on the agenda of the talks.

India's Prime Minister Vajpayee
Prime Minister Vajpayee: Praised for his courage
General Musharraf, who will send his official acceptance in the next day or two, praised Mr Vajpayee for what he called his vision and courage.

General Musharraf said they would co-ordinate a date for the visit, but he believed it could be in late June or early July.

General Musharraf said he wanted to make his meeting with the Indian prime minister an historic one, and would go to Delhi with an open mind.

Surprise move

The Indian move came as a surprise and General Musharraf, who has consistently called for talks, said he could not explain India's unconditional offer of a dialogue, but he applauded it:

"I would give credit to Prime Minister Vajpayee for his statesmanship, and his vision and his courage and boldness towards accepting a reality and starting to address an issue which has bedevilled relations between our two countries," he said.

The meeting will be the first formal contact between the neighbouring countries for two years.

There were high hopes of a reconciliation during Mr Vajpayee's landmark visit to Lahore in February 1999.

But they were dashed a few months later by fighting in Kargil in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Exerting influence

General Musharraf said his government would be willing to exert its influence on militants active in Kashmir if the dialogue made progress.

Indian sentry in Kashmir
Kashmir will be the main focus for the talks

He also suggested he would not be too rigid about the agenda of the summit.

One of the key problems in previous talks has been Islamabad's focus on the Kashmir dispute, while Delhi wants to examine a whole range of issues.

"I am very flexible. I've been saying that the core issue is Kashmir, and let there be no doubting that. But there are other issues also, and I have no problems in discussing the other issues also," he said.

Presidential prospects

However, General Musharraf would not be drawn on widespread speculation that he could become Pakistan's next president.

He said no decision had been taken, but that he wanted to ensure his reforms were not reversed by a civilian government.

He said he would have no problem with one of the two main political parties winning the elections, but said he could not see either of the two former prime ministers - Nawaz Sharif, who is currently in exile in Saudi Arabia, or Benazir Bhutto, who is also abroad - taking power.

He defended his decision to ban political meetings and detain activists planning to demonstrate, saying he wanted to prevent hooliganism and lawlessness.

But the activities of the political parties have been completely overshadowed by General Musharraf's impending visit to Delhi, and hopes that the elusive peace process can be revived once again.

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See also:

24 May 01 | South Asia
Press praises Kashmir initiative
24 May 01 | South Asia
Pakistan welcomes India offer
23 May 01 | South Asia
Analysis: New Kashmir peace hopes
02 Aug 00 | South Asia
Flashpoint Kashmir: Special Report
23 Apr 01 | South Asia
Bridging the Kashmir divide
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