Wednesday, September 24, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Let us increase Mission strength, India tells Pak
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 23
Five months and five days after the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, announced his third and final peace initiative vis a vis Pakistan, the initiative changed gears today when the Vajpayee government proposed to Islamabad to increase the strength of their High Commissions by eight personnel on a reciprocal basis.

In another gesture, New Delhi today gave its nod to a pending Pakistani request for a visit to Baglihai (Jammu and Kashmir) by the Pakistan’s Commissioner of Indus Waters to enable the Pakistani side to satisfy itself that the project at Baglihai is within the framework of the Indus Water River Treaty. New Delhi is understood to have conveyed to Islamabad through diplomatic channels that it could not allow this visit earlier “in view of the security situation” in Jammu and Kashmir.

Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs here told The Tribune that Pakistan’s response to the Indian proposal was awaited as the proposal was made to Pakistan today only.

Under the proposal, if Pakistan agrees, the strength of the two countries’ High Commissions in each other country would be raised by eight personnel from the present 47 to 55. The peak strength of the respective High Commissions used to be 110 but the figure was ordered cut several times in the wake of the December 13, 2001, terrorist strike on Parliament.

The Vajpayee government’s proposal for increasing the High Commissions’ strength has come in view of increased demand for visa and travel on Delhi-Lahore bus and a spurt in visits of delegations between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the MEA officials here are foxed by reports of the “Balloon Man” Vishva Bandhu Gupta’s ambitious plan of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf flying an Indian peace and friendship balloon from Lahore to Amritsar.

Mr Gupta, who recently visited Pakistan and met General Musharraf, is planning to take the (folded) peace balloon to Lahore on board the Delhi-Lahore bus. According to Mr Gupta, General Musharraf has “readily agreed to fly in the “peace and friendship balloon” from Lahore to Amritsar.

Mr Gupta said a special balloon would be made on the basis of a design competition for children under 12 years from India and Pakistan.

The MEA, on its part, says that such a proposed project would require its clearance and it has not received any request to this effect from Mr Gupta, a senior official said.

The problem before the MEA would be how it could clear a proposal which seeks to project the “chief architect of Kargil” as a peacenik.

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