Thursday, December 21, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Ceasefire in J&K extended
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 20 — The Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, today showed his determination regarding solving the Kashmir problem by announcing the extension of ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir by a month following a decline in terrorist violence and infiltration from across the border.

Making an identical statement in both Houses of Parliament the Prime Minister said the government would also initiate “exploratory steps” for the resumption of stalled dialogue with Pakistan. The government would review the position again after Republic Day on January 26.

Following his November 19 unilateral ceasefire announcement during the holy month of Ramadan, there had been “some encouraging developments”, Mr Vajpayee said. He, however, added that “certain other aspects, however remain as our continuing concerns”.

The Prime Minister said after having initiated the dialogue with Pakistan, India remained committed to it. “As part of our continued commitment to the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration, the government will initiate such exploratory steps as are considered necessary by it, so that the composite dialogue process between the Governments of India and Pakistan could be resumed.”

He, however, added that the existence of a suitable environment for such a process was self evidently necessary.

He asserted that the government was committed to meeting the challenge from the terrorists and said, “whereas we will continue to exercise restraint in the face of grave provocations, national interests will never be compromised.”

“After a careful consideration of all aspects, the government has, therefore, taken a decision to extend the period of ‘no initiation of combat operations’ by another month. After Republic Day, 2001, the government will review the position again,” the Prime Minister said.

Beginning his statement Mr Vajpayee said he was taking the opportunity to share government’s assessment of the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, as also along the Line of Control, before the winter session of Parliament concluded and the two Houses rose for the festivals of Id and Christmas.

Stating that the government was greatly heartened by the response of the citizens, political parties and other organisations in the state, he said, “our peace initiative has been widely welcomed there. A distinctly different and a more optimistic mood now prevails in the state. The constituency for peace has expanded significantly.”

In the Rajya Sabha, the normal practice of seeking clarifications following the statement was dispensed with in view of the sensitive nature of the issue.

Mr Vajpayee said there had been a decline in incidents of terrorist violence in that state but regretted that activities of organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen continued resulting in unfortunate loss of innocent civilian lives and security personnel.

The Prime Minister asserted that the government would remain firm in its resolve to combat and defeat the nefarious designs in the state. He said, there had been “recognisable decline” in attempts at “cross-LoC and cross-IB infiltration of terrorists. This must cease entirely. The government is committed to achieving this end.”

He said along the LoC, relative peace has prevailed since the November 19 announcement, barring some incidents in the early stages.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to restoring lasting peace and to enabling all our citizens from Jammu & Kashmir to join as equal partners in India’s march to prosperity,” he said.

In sharp contrast to the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha yesterday, the Opposition today chose to go along the government on this sensitive issue. As the Prime Minister rose to make a statement identical to the one he made in the Lok Sabha, Congress Chief Whip Pranab Mukherjee said keeping in view the “sensitivity of the issue”, the Opposition would not exercise its right to seek clarifications.

“We want to give a clear message that we are all united on the need to bring peace to Kashmir,” Mr Mukherjee said, a gesture which was greeted with loud thumping from both sides.

Hailing the stand of the Opposition, Mr Vajpayee said: “I was going to request the Opposition to make such a gesture and I am overwhelmed that they have done it on their own.”

In a lighter vein, he said the atmosphere in the House today was much different from yesterday, an apparent reference to his government suffering an embarrassing defeat in the Rajya Sabha on the Ayodhya issue. 


Pak cautious over ceasefire extension

ISLAMABAD, Dec 20 (AFP) — Pakistan will examine the fine print of India’s ceasefire extension in Jammu and Kashmir before giving its official response, a Foreign office spokesman said today.

Foreign office spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan said it was too early for Islamabad to say what its response would be and the announcement needed careful consideration.



Pak withdraws some troops

ISLAMABAD, Dec 20 (AP) — In a surprise announcement Pakistan today ordered a partial withdrawal of its troops from the border along the Line of Control (LoC).

The order was given in a move to try to push the peace process with India forward, said a military statement.

“Pakistan has unilaterally taken another bold initiative to withdraw part of its forces deployed along the LoC”, said a Pakistan army statement.

However, the announcement did not indicate from which area along the LoC the troops were being withdrawn. Back


Decision reflects positive move
From T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 20 — “Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is not shooting in the dark.” That is how highly placed sources summed up the unilateral extension of ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir by another month till January 26.

“The imponderables apart, Mr Vajpayee’s initiative is moving forward slowly and has been welcomed by all sections in the valley and elsewhere in the troubled border state, which reflects a definite positive movement,” sources observed.

It is apparent that Track II efforts have been unleashed in a low-key manner within the country and abroad which has found an echo even among the hardcore elements on both sides of the dividing line in Kashmir.

Some of these individuals enjoying their own spheres of influence, who after facing the wrath of the all powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) decided to resettle themselves in distant foreign lands have been quietly allowed to visit New Delhi. They were also permitted to make a sojourn in Srinagar to assess matters for themselves.

At least one such leader of a proscribed party in POK has gone on record to assert that the environment in the state, especially in Srinagar, draws no comparison with the stifling atmosphere across the Line of Control (LoC) in Islamabad-controlled Muzaffarabad. Moreover, India’s initiatives for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir problem has pushed Pakistan to the wall, internationally.

Sources maintain it was entirely Mr Vajpayee’s decision in the first instance to halt combat operations against the militants operating in the state during Ramzan. That the move has created an amiable atmosphere is evidenced by the fact that the ceasefire has now been extended by another 30 days after reviewing the situation in its entirety.

Mr Vajpayee has found substance in the argument that it is imperative for the NDA government to relate to the Kashmiris for any meaningful breakthrough to be achieved. The initial announcement of the ceasefire on November 19 has had an impact.

“Kashmiris do not want to be with Pakistan and the ceasefire has created the necessary space for the central leadership to move forward cautiously,” the sources said and as a matter of abundant caution, added “we are not losing sight of the massacre of innocents in Pahalgam.”

Despite the odd noises by Dr Farooq Abdullah about the ceasefire, Mr Vajpayee is keen to build on the public mood for peace by evolving a consensus.

The NDA government has firmly rejected the offer of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference to act as a mediator with Pakistan though New Delhi might not be averse to the APHC leaders making the odd foray into Islamabad.

It is obvious the modalities have first to be worked with all parties and groups representing all sections in the state for getting the dialogue on the rails. The resumption of the botched up composite dialogue with Pakistan encompassing the entire gamut of issues, including Kashmir, comes at a much later stage subject to cross-border terrorism being stopped.

“There is no question of resuming the stalled dialogue with Pakistan till Islamabad stops cross border terrorism though there is discernible drop in the infiltration of Pakistanis and other foreigners in the garb of so called jehadis,” sources in key government agencies acknowledged. The Vajpayee government is not lowering its guard along the LoC or the international border with Pakistan.

Mr Vajpayee believes equations are changing, which holds the portends for a breakthrough. It is in this context that the Prime Minister’s appeal to the opposition parties to adopt a helpful attitude in tackling the Kashmir problem assumes importance.Back


Ceasefire extension positive step: Qazi
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 20 — In a significant statement, Pakistan High Commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi today welcomed Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s statement in Parliament extending the November 19 ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir by another month.

Talking to newspersons at the Iftar party hosted by the BJP President, Mr Bangaru Laxman, at the party headquarters, Mr Qazi said it was a “positive step” and “I welcome it”.

While “it is a good thing and we are very pleased but, it is not for me to give the official response,” the High Commissioner said, adding that he was waiting for a response from Islamabad.

Asked to comment on the statement and its implication for bilateral relations, Mr Qazi said, “It (the statement) is for our Indian colleagues to explain what they have in mind. It is not for us to speculate”.

The High Commissioner said the past few months had witnessed good developments on both sides and “in this month of mercy, Insha Allah something will come out of it”.

Reiterating the Islamabad’s stand that it was ready for a dialogue with India anytime and anywhere, Mr Qazi said: “We have always been for a dialogue. We don’t accept any pre-conditions. We are prepared to be flexible”, he pointed out.

The Iftar was attended by the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Union Home Minister, Mr L. K. Advani, the HRD Minister, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, the Surface Transport Minister, Mr B.C. Khanduri and other central ministers and leaders. Many Ambassadors from Islamic countries also attended the Iftar party.


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