Sunday, July 13, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

India rejects Pak terms for resuming air links
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 12
India today said there was no defined “core issue” between New Delhi and Islamabad and rejected Pakistan’s pre-condition of giving guarantees for resuming air links.

“There is no defined core issue between India and Pakistan and we will go according to the composite dialogue process which has been agreed to by the two countries. So we don’t accept this theory of core issue,” External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha said in an exclusive interview to The Tribune in his South Block office here today.

The controversy on the issues of overflights and civil aviation links is bound to snowball with Mr Sinha’s candid remarks. “This was what the situation was before and this is the situation that has to be restored. It can’t be part restoration. So both these issues will have to be discussed.”

When reminded of the guarantees that Pakistan is seeking, Mr Sinha’s categoric answer was: “ I think it is not a good idea to insist on guarantees. Because if Pakistan insists on a guarantee for this then we will have to insist on a hundred guarantees from Pakistan.”

Islamabad has suggested a meeting of civil aviation officials of the two countries to “ensure that one party will not be able to withdraw the overflight rights of another country.” Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman Masood Khan said on record on July 8 that “overflights have a different dimension... Air links, yes. There is no automaticity for overflights.”

On Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s roadmap for peace between the two countries, Mr Sinha pointed out that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had already gone on record saying that Gen Musharraf’s roadmap was not acceptable to India.

The Minister stressed that India had never said that it was willing to discuss the Kashmir issue with Pakistan. He said: “We are prepared to discuss J&K as we are prepared to discuss all other issues. And I think it is misinformation, or disinformation, sought to be spread when Gen Musharraf says we are not prepared to discuss J&K. India has never said we are not prepared to discuss J&K.

“We are prepared to discuss the Jammu and Kashmir issue. We are discussing it. We have discussed it in the past. Until 1990 it was always Pakistan which was reluctant to discuss J&K. It is only post-1990 when cross-border terrorism became a reality that Pakistan has been harping on this question more emphatically. They feel that cross-border terrorism gives them a certain handle on this issue, which is wrong. We have never said that we have any hesitation in discussing the issue of J&K.”

The Minister referred to the concept of composite dialogue between India and Pakistan which had been agreed upon by the two countries. “We will not go back on Shimla or Lahore, we would not like either country to go back on the issue of composite dialogue, and composite dialogue includes discussion on J&K. It is not a core issue between India and Pakistan. That is Pakistan’s view. Pakistan cannot unilaterally say that J&K is a core issue and then try to hold us to that.”

On the question whether the Government of India could do business with Gen Musharraf or if there was a crisis of confidence between the Vajpayee government and Gen Musharraf, Mr Sinha said “We will do business with whoever is in power by whatever means in Pakistan”. Then he cryptically remarked: “We have no choice. That is an option which the Pakistani people should exercise. We will be on our guard. We will be cautiously dealing with any Pakistani ruler. We will exercise that minimum caution that is necessary.”

Asked to clarify the “give-and-take” formula which Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani talked about in the context of Indo-Pak relations, Mr Sinha said he would not like to “define it at this stage”.

He responded in the positive when asked if his government was aiming at normalising relations with Pakistan before the October 2004 General Election. Asked if a solution to the Kashmir issue would also be found, he replied: “This is exactly what we are aiming at. All issues will be resolved. Why only J&K. We are keen and determined to make more progress with Pakistan.”

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