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'Path-breaking event' for peace and amity

Date: 19-02-1999 :: Pg: 01 :: Col: e

By K.K. Katyal

NEW DELHI, Feb.18.

India today set the tone for the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee's ride on the inaugural bus service to Pakistan - ``a path-breaking event'' - with an emphasis on the message of peace, of the desire for an enduring relationship of mutual confidence, peace, amity and multi-faceted cooperation to be conveyed in his talks with his counterpart, Mr. Nawaz Sharif.

Addressing a press conference, the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, eloquently described the significance of Mr. Vajpayee's visit to Pakistan - the first after ten years - but confined himself to generalities as regards the substance of the planned discussions. There was one significant indication - he confirmed, in response to a query, that confidence-building measures will be discussed by the two Prime Ministers.

This was in keeping with the other pointers that, in the preparatory discussions now on, nuclear and other CBMs are under serious consideration. He replied in the affirmative when asked whether Jammu and Kashmir would figure in the talks - ``India's concerns are well-known and will be put forward credibly and in a forthright manner. That is the purpose of the dialogue.''

However, he ducked questions on whether a no- war pact would be considered or whether he expected a breakthrough or whether conversion of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir into the international border was on his mind. Unlike his Pakistani counterpart, Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Mr. Jaswant Singh avoided straying into contentious territory.

Mr. Nawaz Sharif, he said, would pay a return visit to India, subsequently but its timing would be finalised to suit his convenience. This was also his comment, when asked whether the process of the prime ministerial dialogue was intended to be continued. And he drew attention to the point that the talks at the Foreign Secretary level were continuing and that the current round had to be postponed to accommodate the Prime Ministers' initiative.

Mr.Jaswant Singh emphatically denied that talks were being held because of the U.S. pressure. ``There has been no pressure. And we give in to no pressure.'' He was equally forthright in refuting the suggestion of immaturity in India- Pakistan relationship. ``India and Pakistan do not require the services of interpreters in their dialogue. We know each other's language``, he said.

Will the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) be discussed? His reply: This was not on the agenda, the respective positions were well known and could well be discussed. Asked about the chances of a no-war pact, Mr.Jaswant Singh merely said that any proposal, put forward and aimed at enhancing friendship and amity and directed towards the welfare of the people would be given serious consideration.

Should a breakthrough be expected? ``We approach this journey, with a sense of realism and a sense of completing the journey.''

The purpose was to engage in dialogue and to take bold steps, involving removal of contentious issues and bringing it to a new level. Yes, it was path-breaking and was not merely symbolism, he said, adding: ``every additional step is an additionality.''

He stood by his view, he told a questioner, that map- making (in South Asia) had to stop. Asked to elaborate his point: ``I cannot elaborate it cartographically.'' He chose to ignore the suggestion whether it implied conversion of LOC into the international boundary.

In a prepared statement he spoke of the ``path- breaking event'' in these words: ``This initiative has received public acclaim not just in India and Pakistan, but in the entire South-Asian region. It has caught the imagination of the world by the symbolism that it holds. This journey has inherent in it a manifestation of the overwhelming desire of the peoples of our two countries to break from the confines of past contentions; those which have marred India-Pakistan ties, and to move their relationship to a brighter future.''

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1999 Green World Publishers Inc.
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