RAWALPINDI, Dec 18: “We are for United Nations Security Council Resolutions (on Kashmir),” President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with Reuters at his home late on Wednesday. “However, now we have left that aside.”

“If we want to resolve this issue, both sides need to talk to each other with flexibility, coming beyond stated positions, meeting halfway somewhere.”

Speaking less than three weeks before an important South Asian summit in Islamabad, General Musharraf said he was prepared to be “bold and flexible” in an attempt to resolve the perennial dispute over Kashmir.

He said the present represented a “very real opportunity” to make peace, but warned India not to throw away the chance by continuing to spurn offers for talks.

“The basis of everything, the basis of a reduction in militancy...is moving forward on a process of dialogue,” the president said. “If that political dialogue doesn’t come about, who wins and who loses? It is the moderates who lose and the extremists who win, and that is exactly what has been happening.”

Gen Musharraf refused to be drawn on how to settle the Kashmir dispute, but said any solution had to be acceptable to Kashmiri people as well as to both countries.

“We have come to a stage where there is a thaw in relations, where there is expectation on both sides among the people,” he said. “If the leadership doesn’t rise to the occasion, it is a pity and I think we’ll disappoint our public again.”

But Gen Musharraf warned that he would not plead for an audience with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when the latter travels to Islamabad for the Saarc summit next month. “The ball is in his court. If he wants to meet me, I’ll meet him. If he doesn’t want to meet me, I am not that keen.”

The president also criticized India for taking advantage of the present ceasefire to accelerate construction of a fence along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, a move he said showed New Delhi’s “insincerity” about seeking a peaceful solution.

Amid his talk of peace, the general also said: “I do strongly believe that they (the Indians) are intransigent, they suffer from arrogance of power...I am a proud Pakistani, I will never submit. No, sir, we will not forget Kashmir.”

ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT: Speaking days after escaping assassination, President Musharraf said he believed in destiny and had not thought who would run Pakistan if he were killed.

In his first interview since Sunday’s attempt on his life, Gen Musharraf said he believed Al Qaeda and its local collaborators were at the front of a queue of people who wanted to kill him. The general brushed off the attempt on his life as an “occupational hazard”.

“I’m not a superstitious man at all. But I’ve come to believe in destiny,” he said, displaying soldierly sangfroid. “I can’t hibernate. So, I don’t care about it.”

He recalled an earlier attempt on his life and four other brushes with death down the years.

In 1972, for example, he recalled how he gave up a place on a small plane returning from the mountains to make way for the bodies of soldiers killed in an avalanche. “We haven’t found that Fokker yet, it crashed in the mountain.”

“These kind of things have kept happening to me,” he said.

Gen Musharraf said hopes of catching them were raised eight to 10 months ago in the Waziristan tribal area close to the border in northern Pakistan but no-one was found. There have been no substantive clues to their whereabouts since.

“We are trying our best to locate them, but I wouldn’t say there is a race if you are meaning whether they get me or I get them.”

Many foreign businessmen and Western diplomats fear Pakistan could lapse into chaos and instability if Gen Musharraf died without a clear system for succession. He agreed systems and institutions needed to be in place. Pressed on how succession might work, President Musharraf was unsure, but he doubted whether it would be a matter of military rank.

“I don’t think it’s a question of (the) next general, I think it’s the system...I haven’t thought of it really.”

Asked whether preparing for this eventuality should be looked at urgently in light of Sunday’s near miss, he agreed: “One should, yes.”—Reuters