Saturday, May 3, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

India renews peace initiative
To appoint envoy to Pak, restore air link
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 2
In yet another effort to normalising ties with Islamabad, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today renewed his peace initiative by announcing in Parliament that India had decided to appoint a High Commissioner to Pakistan and restore civil aviation links on a reciprocal basis.

Making similar statements on the peace initiative with Pakistan in the two Houses of Parliament, Mr Vajpayee said he had discussed the ways of carrying forward bilateral relations during the telephone call he received from Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zaffarullah Khan Jamali on April 28.

Taking the two Houses into confidence about his telephonic talk with the Pakistan premier, the Prime Minister said, “In this regard, I emphasised the importance of economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, people-to-people contacts and civil aviation links.

“These would create an environment in which difficult issues in our bilateral relations could be addressed. Prime Minister Jamali suggested the resumption of sporting links between the two countries. We agreed that, as a beginning, these measures could be considered.”

The Prime Minister said, “In this context, it has been decided to appoint a High Commissioner to Pakistan and to restore the civil aviation links on a reciprocal basis.”

Observing that Mr Jamali condemned terrorism during their conversation, Mr Vajpayee said the Pakistani Prime Minister had also conveyed his appreciation for the comments made by him in Srinagar as also his remarks about Indo-Pak relations in the two Houses of Parliament.

Soon after the statement, several Opposition members sought clarifications from Mr Vajpayee. Speaker Manohar Joshi said as per the practice in the Lok Sabha, this was not allowed, but as a special case, he was permitting Congress Deputy Leader Shivraj V. Patil to do so.

Mr Patil drew the government’s attention to the statement of senior US army officer Jay Garner, that a solution to the Kashmir issue would be in place by December 2004 and that Asia was one of the most volatile regions.

Mr Vajpayee said, “I have seen the report, but it is not correct to say that it is the US point of view. There have been many speculations and a lot of people are moving around for mediation. We don’t know why they are doing so.

“Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and no third party would be allowed to mediate.”

He suggested that the Opposition should not insist on the government disclosing all details as this would not help in furthering talks with Pakistan.

In the Rajya Sabha, Mr Vajpayee gave clarifications on his statement, saying that “we want to give peace another chance”.

Terming the response by Mr Jamali as “encouraging”, he said, “I felt there should be some way out.”

Mr Vajpayee said he had invited him to Islamabad but “I was unable to accept the invitation”. He declined to give any further details.

To the query of members what would be the government’s response to Pakistan’s threat to raise the Kashmir issue following Islamabad taking over the presidentship of UN Security Council, Mr Vajpayee said Pakistan should be aware of the Security Council decision that the Kashmir issue should be resolved bilaterally on the basis of Simla Agreement.

Seeking clarifications, Congress leader K. Natwar Singh observed in the Rajya Sabha that it would have been in the fitness of things if Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had telephoned Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and not Mr Jamali.

Mr Vajpayee, he said, was accountable to Parliament while Mr Jamali was answerable only to General Musharraf.

Asked by Mr Natwar Singh whether the government would send Mr Harsh Bhasin, an IFS officer who was tipped to take over the key slot, Mr Vajpayee was non-committal, saying that the process had to be gone through.

Soon after the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament House, India had withdrawn its High Commissioner Vijay Nambiar from Pakistan. India also snapped civil aviation links with the neighbouring country from January 1, last year.

However, Pakistan did not withdraw its High Commissioner Ashraf Jahangir Qazi from New Delhi. But India expelled the Pakistani High Commissioner after the May 14, Kaluchak massacre in Kashmir.

In early June last year, India decided to restore air links with the neighbouring country after US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage conveyed to the Indian leadership that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had committed himself to putting a permanent end to cross-border terrorism. But Pakistan did not respond to restoration of air links which have remained snapped.

He said India had made an offer of friendship and talks not out of weakness but from a position of strength. “We had won wars, we will win peace as well”. India would have no compromise with its self-respect, integrity and sovereignty.

While the Prime Minister has made the friendship move, he said things could not be done in a rush. He made this remark in reply to journalist Kuldip Nayar’s observation that the Prime Minister had appreciated the visit of a Pakistani Parliamentary delegation. Mr Vajpayee said he was happy that members, cutting across the party lines, were speaking with one voice when it came to the national interest.

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