NEW YORK, Sept 24: President Asif Ali Zardari urged the nation on Wednesday to realise that it was in a state of war and underscored the need to prepare a new plan to deal with it.
“We have to increase the appetite for the acceptance of (the fact) that we are in a state of war,” he said. “We cannot wish it away.”
At his first news conference in New York, Mr Zardari outlined the policies his government intends to pursue on major foreign policy issues.
On Kashmir, he indicated, it would be a continuation of the Musharraf regime’s policy of holding direct talks with India. The United Nations will be involved only if needed to do so.
On Pakistan’s role in the US-led on war on terror, Mr Zardari expressed a desire that US military incursions into Fata should be stopped, but apparently he received no assurance from the Americans in that regard.
Mr Zardari also spoke of his plan to discuss the water crisis with India. He was open to discussing with the Afghans a proposal for forming a joint force for patrolling the Afghan border.
He felt that the Marriott blast in Islamabad on Saturday was directed against him.
Mr Zardari also discussed the water crisis when he met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later on Wednesday. He said he had also discussed the issue with other world leaders as it was a major concern for Pakistan.
In his meeting with President Hamid Karzai, Mr Zardari discussed his government’s desire for building a new relationship with the neighbouring country. “We intend to open a new chapter” based on mutual respect and cooperation, he said.
“We have not been able to convey the impact to our people and the nation,” said Mr Zardari wile talking about the need to prepare the people for the war. “Can we sustain the engagement without involving the people?”
The government, he said, needed to make a new plan and develop new concepts for winning this war.
“We have had physical effects. We have had economic effects and we have had psychological effect of this war. The entire nation is fearful, especially after the Marriott blast.”
Like the US president on Tuesday, Mr Zardari also handled the question of ending US military incursions into Pakistan tactfully. He did not say if President George W. Bush had agreed to stop the incursions when they met in New York on Tuesday. But he pointed out that Mr Bush had noted his concerns on this issue which, according to Mr Zardari, was a “manifestation of his mindset”.
“Pakistan and the United States are on the same page on this,” he added.
The US incursions, said Mr Zardari, were counter-productive and did not help “win over hearts and minds” of the people.
“We all make mistakes in this war and we are also always ready to correct them.”
Mr Zardari described the Kashmir dispute as a core issue for Pakistan and noted that the current uprising in the valley was ‘an indigenous uprising’.
“The initiative has moved from the hands of the government to the hands of the people of India and Pakistan, a move I welcome.”
Mr Zardari said he wished to resolve the Kashmir dispute with India and through people-to-people contact but would raise it in the UN only if needed to do so.
The president said that in his meetings with the world leaders, he noticed realisation for the problems Pakistan faced, particularly the economic crisis, and they were wiling to help Islamabad deal with this situation.
He said that major economic powers were setting up a group called the Friends of Pakistan to help develop an economic package. “There’s a great support in the world for Pakistan on this issue,” he said.
The president said that Pakistan needed to engage with these nations but “at the end of the day, we will have to take charge of the situation”.
Mr Zardari said that he held encouraging talks with the Iranian president on Tuesday on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and the two countries agreed to launch a private-public initiative for raising funds for the project.
The two countries, he said, needed to raise about $7 billion and could not do so without support from the private sector.
Without naming India, a major beneficiary of the pipeline project, Mr Zardari said it was unfortunate that “other nations involved in the project had now become a little more conservative about it”.
Mr Zardari said that Pakistan planned to hold an international conference for considering various proposals for fighting terrorism.Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, Nato members, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and some other nations will participate in the conference. Mr Zardari said the government was providing legal and moral support to Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who faces terrorism charges in a US court.
“Because of the nature of this case, we cannot do more,” he added.
The president said that despite political differences, PPP’s alliance with PML-N will continue. “I consider Nawaz Sharif my elder brother and we will continue to work with him.”
Mr Zardari said the government was bringing a bill in parliament for resolving the judges’ issue.