Sunday, September 10, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Bush for stronger Indo-US ties
From Hari Jaisingh

NEW YORK, Sept 9 — In a significant development, the American Republican presidential candidate, Mr George W. Bush, telephoned the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, here today underlining his party’s desire to strengthen the multifaceted and mutually beneficial cooperation with India.

It is apparent that though Mr Bill Clinton had facilitated the upswing in Indo-US relations during his official visit to India in March, the Republicans also want to build on the initiative taken by their Democrat rivals by taking that policy forward.

In an interface with the media representatives accompanying the Prime Minister on his 13-day visit to the USA, the External Affairs Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, said the exchange of views between Mr Vajpayee and Mr Bush on the telephone brought to the fore the fact that Indo-U S relations went much beyond resting on individual personalities.

Mr Singh pointed out that Mr Bush had taken the initiative in speaking to Mr Vajpayee. Mr Bush had not shown such a gesture to any of the other 150 Heads of State or Government present in this vibrant city for the Millennium Summit of the United Nations.

The External Affairs Minister did not go into the specifics of the discussions that Mr Vajpayee had with Mr Bush. However, Mr Vajpayee emphasised that India and the USA were natural allies. Implicit in this was that relations between the two countries could not be the preserve of the political party capturing the White House. In other words, Indo-US relations were not individual oriented or government specific.

Mr Bush specially appreciated the role of the people of Indian origin and spoke of their contribution to developing very good and warm Indo-US ties. Mr Vajpayee specially referred to the Republican manifesto and thanked Mr Bush for making encouraging references to the relations between Washington and New Delhi.

Mr Singh said the Prime Minister’s forthright speech at the UN Millennium Summit yesterday, putting the ground realities in proper perspective vis-à-vis an intransigent Pakistan, which continued to aid and abet cross-border terrorism, clearly “set a benchmark” for resuming the stalled Indo-Pak dialogue.

“We refuse to accept jehad as an instrument of foreign policy. If it is ever accepted we will be advocating global anarchy,” Mr Singh observed in his inimitable style. He maintained that there was no ambiguity about India’s stand that Pakistan should stop cross-border terrorism and adhere to the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration before sitting across the table.

Rejecting Pakistan’s constant outcry that Kashmir was the core issue, the External Affairs Minister said, “Kashmir is at the core of Indian nationhood.” He said the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in touch with the All-Party Hurriyat Conference in Jammu and Kashmir in a determined attempt to give the peace process a chance. Mr Singh replied in the negative when asked if the government was in touch with certain influential Kashmiris in the USA.

Mr Singh was casual in dismissing the allegation made by the Chief Executive of Pakistan, Gen Pervez Musharraf, that New Delhi’s approach to keep Pakistan out of the proposed peace process in Kashmir was negative. On the contrary, Pakistan’s approach during the post-Lahore period could be characterised as negative.

To buttress his point, Mr Singh said Pakistan’s misadventure in Kargil followed the Lahore process. Then came Kandahar (hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft) followed by the July 31 and August 1 mayhem of innocent people in Pahalgam in J and K.

“If Pakistan abrogates the several international agreements that it has bilaterally entered into with India and thereafter continues to encourage cross-border terrorism, clearly it will not be possible to resume the dialogue. That is all that the Prime Minister has said,” Mr Singh explained.

He said India required Pakistan to reaffirm its commitment to the 1972 Shimla Agreement and the February 1999 Lahore Declaration along with abjuring violence and cross-border terrorism.

He pooh-poohed General Musharraf for drawing a parallel between East Timor and Kashmir. “While East Timor was an occupied territory, Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. It has never been an occupied territory. The occupied territory is that part of J and K which is in Pakistan’s possession.”

On Pakistan’s attempt to cloak cross-border terrorism as jehad, Mr Singh said India had the largest number of Muslims after Indonesia and asked whether jehad was against the Indian Muslims.

At a reception hosted by India’s Ambassador in Washington, Mr Naresh Chandra, at Waldorf Astora last evening where the Prime Minister is staying, Mr Vajpayee asserted there was no danger to his coalition government and that it would not only serve its full term but also remain in power for a longer time.

It was a highly representative Indian community which attended the reception. Among those present were professionals, software specialists, businessmen and American Indians. To avoid straining his knees, Mr Vajpayee spoke to them seated, with an air of confidence and dignified authority. The people of Indian origin and NRIs from all over the USA, including young upwardly mobile couples, enjoyed their interaction with the Prime Minister. He praised them for generating 5 per cent of America’s wealth while forming less than 1 per cent of the population.

Mr Vajpayee said people who used to ask him how he was running a 24-party coalition government back home had stopped making such posers. “My government will run,” he declared.

He made it clear that his government would not hesitate to take harsh decisions on nuclear and foreign policy issues with a view to protecting the country’s interests. When India conducted the nuclear tests at Pokhran in May, 1998, many questions were raised, but now the world has accepted the reality.

Mr Vajpayee said there was respect for India, which had emerged as a major information technology power. Indo-US relations, he noted, had turned into an “entire chapter and not merely one leaf”.

Declaring that the ongoing economic reforms in India had borne fruit, he invited non-resident Indians to contribute their bit. “Please bear with us for a while and we will make things easier and smooth at Indian airports so that all your irritants are removed,” he assured the who’s who of the Indian community in the USA.

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