Musharraf willing to meet Benazir — one day
* Says South Asia peace ‘fairly irreversible’
* Doesn’t expect an immediate breakthrough
RAWALPINDI: President Pervez Musharraf said on Thursday that he would be willing to meet opposition leader-in-exile Benazir Bhutto to advance rapprochement with liberal forces, but not yet.
President Musharraf told Reuters that Benazir’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was not helping reconciliation by planning rallies on Saturday to welcome back her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, from a visit to her in exile in Dubai.
“Moderate forces need to unite to suppress the extremist forces,” the president said in an interview when asked about reconciliation with liberal parties such as Benazir’s. Asked whether he was willing to meet Benazir personally, President Musharraf, who has not hidden his distaste for the former prime minister in the past, replied, “That time has not come as yet; when the time comes, yes, one doesn’t mind meeting anyone. But at the moment it’s not right at all, especially with whatever is happening now.” He was referring to the PPP’s plans for a rally in Lahore, which the party says authorities have tried to block by arresting thousands of supporters.
“The attempt to disturb law and order in Lahore on Saturday is not conducive to good, harmonious relations,” said President Musharraf. Authorities have effectively barred the PPP from holding a rally in Lahore to welcome Asif Zardari by extending a temporary ban on gatherings of more than three people.
President Musharraf defended the ban. “Processions are not allowed,” he said. “In Pakistan, if you allow processions they will break down the window panes and the traffic lights, and you end up with chaos and confusion.”
President Musharraf also talked about the peace process with India, saying he was “fairly optimistic” the Kashmir dispute could be resolved and described their peace process as “fairly irreversible”.
“But if any side becomes intransigent with their views, I have made it very clear that all confidence-building measures (CBMs) cannot be the final solution. Unless we move forward on the main issue of Kashmir we cannot go on the path of CBMs only,” he said.
Ahead of his first visit to India since a disastrous summit in Agra in July 2001, President Musharraf was relaxed enough to joke about the prospects, starting by saying: “I hope it doesn’t turn out like Agra!”
He said the atmosphere for talks was now much better, but his weekend meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would have to concentrate on trying to get closer to a solution for Kashmir.
President Musharraf also said that fears of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons were unfounded. But he said in an interview it was possible they could get hold of a far less threatening “dirty bomb” using enriched uranium and conventional explosives to spread radioactivity.
President Musharraf, the target of at least three assassination attempts in the past three years, also said he believed the dangers to him had decreased. But the president said he still had sleepless nights about the threat posed to Pakistan by religious militants. reuters