ISLAMABAD, Nov 30: President Gen Pervez Musharraf on Sunday agreed to the resumption of overflights with India, and proposed a four-stage approach for the settlement of the Kashmir issue.

Information Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed told newsmen that President Musharraf had taken a unilateral decision to allow the overflight facility to India as a goodwill gesture. Modalities for resuming overflights would be worked out at the experts’ meeting to be held in New Delhi on Monday.

Mr Ahmed said the announcement was made by the president at a meeting with the members of the Young Presidents Organization of both Pakistani and Indian chapters.

“As a gesture of goodwill, Pakistan will agree to the resumption of overflights with India at the talks being held in Delhi next week,” the president told the Indian visitors.

He said let the flight of Indian delegates be the first from here after the resumption of air links.

During his three-hour interaction with the participants of the meeting, he said the confidence building measures announced by Pakistan and India recently should be a starting point of the peace process. The initiative must be taken to its culmination in the interest of peace and development of South Asia, he stressed.

Elaborating his approach for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, Gen Musharraf said at the first stage the two countries should start a dialogue. At the second stage, they shall accept the importance and centrality of the dispute. Then they should eliminate the solutions unacceptable to Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir. At the final stage, they should go for a solution acceptable to all — Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris.

“This is Pakistan’s approach and it is flexible, we have to move step by step,” he said.

Pakistan, the president said, was sincere in its efforts for peace in the region and it wanted peace with honour, dignity and sovereign equality, as is the right of all nations.

He emphasized that both countries needed to move beyond their stated positions for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. “Pakistan wants a composite approach for resolution of all issues, including Kashmir.

“We must go beyond stated positions, because Kashmir cannot be rolled under the carpet and India, being a bigger partner in the region, must show flexibility and magnanimity,” he said.

The president informed the gathering that the vast majority of Pakistanis was moderate and progressive, and it rejected religious extremism.

He said an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis favoured his post-9/11 policies as they had been in the interest of the country.

India, he observed, was also faced with religious extremism and had militant organizations and said that just as acts of extremism were condemnable in Pakistan so should be the killing of Muslims in Gujarat. He said there was a need to curb obscurantism and extremism as they retarded development.

In reply to a question about the alleged cross-border infiltration, the president said the uprising in the occupied Kashmir was indigenous which had started in the wake of suppression. “We must understand the realities and move forward to a dialogue.”

He asked the participants to “give confidence to leadership in New Delhi to adopt a bold stance for a win-win situation for both countries.”

He regretted that despite the intellectual quality of the peopleof the region, South Asia remained backward due to the conflict between India and Pakistan.

“Therefore, for the sake of the people of region, we have to go for socio-economic development of the region and change the environment. Forget the past and look to future.”

The president pointed out that a lot of determination was required on both sides to carry forward the recent CBMs to achieve peace, harmony and development.

Referring to his theory of ‘enlightened moderation’, the president said all should contribute their bit to execute the strategy for making the world a safer place; through rejection of extremism by the Muslim world and resolution of political disputes involving Muslims by the West, particularly the US, with justice.

In reply to a question, he said democracy in Pakistan could not become sustainable as people were not empowered at the grass roots. He informed the gathering about the introduction of the local government system and expressed the hope that it would bring about a silent revolution in the country.

He said there was no clash between Islam and democracy. Islam, he explained, stood for democracy, human rights and for dealing with issues through consensus.

He told a questioner that Islamabad favoured a pipeline project for transporting gas to India from Iran through Pakistan.

Shaikh Rashid Ahmed and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri also attended the brunch.

FINAL DECISION: The proposal to withdraw the ban on overflights had been under consideration for some time in the official circles but the final decision was taken on Friday at the highest political level, Dawn learnt through informed sources.

“It was a political decision and was fully backed by the foreign policy-making institutions,” these sources maintained.

Mr Kasuri and Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar were both at the foreign office on Friday despite it being an official Eid holiday.

The ban on overflights affects a maximum of 18 Pakistani flights and 113 flights originating from India. As a consequence of the stalled air links, both India and Pakistan have suffered huge revenue losses.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that air links would most likely resume after almost two years by mid- December.

A five-member Pakistan delegation led by Maj-Gen Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry has already arrived in New Delhi to begin the second round of talks with Indian civil aviation officials on Monday.

A fresh Air Services Agreement, specifying routes and dates for resumption of air links, will be signed during the upcoming talks, a well-placed official source said.

“The talks between the two sides will focus largely on the technical aspects which were not touched during the first round in April in Rawalpindi,” officials said.

Observers see the recent peace overtures made by Pakistan and India as a significant breakthrough in easing tensions ahead of the 12th Saarc summit. Some ascribe these overtures partly to the pressure by influential members of the international community, particularly the US and the European Union, through persistent phone diplomacy.