ISLAMABAD, Feb 4: There has been a guessing game going on in foreign policy circles here since Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri declared at a seminar in Lahore a week ago that only five people in the government were in the know of the 'real' proposals on Kashmir being secretly discussed with India.
While asserting that the Foreign Office had a full say in formulating every initiative, Mr Kasuri had reportedly said: "Only five people know about the drafts and proposals of Kashmir talks and two of them are from the Foreign Office."
While it is obvious that Mr Kasuri is one, the other person has to be foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan who has been leading the official level talks with India on Kashmir. Outside the Foreign Office, it is equally clear it is President Gen Pervez Musharraf and his trusted aide and National Security Council Secretary Tariq Aziz who has been discussing the proposals with his Indian counterpart S. K. Lamba on the back-channel front.
Logically the fifth person has to be the head of the government, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. However, many believe that it is most unlikely that the ISI chief who traditionally had a role in formulation of Pakistan's India and Kashmir policy was not kept in the loop. Those close to power corridors say there are bound to be a couple of other people as well in the civil-military establishment who would have knowledge, in general terms about the Kashmir proposals.
Lt. General Hamid Javed private secretary to President could be one.
President Gen Pervez Musharraf also confirmed at the news conference at his Camp Office on Friday that only a few people including himself, the foreign minister and Tariq Aziz were privy to the proposals on Kashmir. He sounded fairly optimistic about the ongoing peace process yielding positive results on this front and declared that Pakistan's relations with India had never been this good. Pointing to the sensitive nature of the Kashmir issue, he said it was not prudent to make the proposals public at this point. However, the President held out the assurance that the nation would be taken into confidence at an appropriate time before taking a decision.
Mr Kasuri was also present at the news conference and when probed by Dawn about the select five, he said: "Now I am not going to get into that." Asked if he got the number right, he just smiled and walked away, saying that the figure was meant only for Pakistan.
Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat also predicted early resolution of the Kashmir dispute on Friday and added that only four VVIPs were aware of the proposals on Kashmir. He named the President, the foreign minister and the NSC secretary but did not mention the fourth.
Apparently the options being considered on Kashmir are based on various ideas floated and reiterated by President Musharraf over the last couple of years. These range from demilitarisation, a phased withdrawal of troops, self-governance or autonomy to bringing the state under the joint supervision of both countries and free movement of people within the state without redrawing borders.
Insiders say discussions on the options on Kashmir are being kept under the wraps at this stage because of the fear that hawkish elements on both sides may sabotage the entire peace process. Interestingly, certain quarters in India as well as Pakistan have been criticising the two governments of a 'sell-out' on Kashmir. Seasoned observers of south Asia's tricky diplomatic affairs say this perhaps only goes out to prove that finally both countries are showing flexibility and moving away from their originally stated positions on disputed Kashmir - thus raising hopes for some sort of pragmatic solution in not so distant a future.