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Historic bus journey will further amity, trust: Jaswant

DH News Service

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh today held out the promise that India will seize every opportunity provided by Prime Minister A B Vajpayee`s forthcoming summit meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore for furthering amity and trust between the two countries. ''It is our view that this (Vajpayee`s bus journey to Pakistan) is a historic engagement after Shimla. Any proposal aimed at furthering amity and friendship between the two countries shall be given utmost consideration,`` the external affairs minister said.

Break with the past

Addressing a press conference here on the eve of the prime minister`s two-day visit beginning on Saturday, Mr Singh said the ''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.`` The thrust of the prime minister`s efforts will be convey to his Pakistani counterpart India`s desire to build enduring bilateral ties based mutual confidence, peace, amity and multi-faceted co-operation, he said.

Mr Singh said the two prime ministers, during their talks, will discuss nuclear-related matters, including confidence-building measures, Kashmir and a range of other bilateral issues. Responding to queries on the contentious Kashmir issue, Mr Singh, stated that India will discuss it. He added that the purpose will be exchange each other`s concerns in a candid and forthright manner. When asked whether India proposed to covert the Line of Control (LOC) into the international border, Mr Singh merely reiterated his earlier statement that ''fifty years of map-making on the Kashmir issue should end.``

He avoided a direct reply on whether India will be willing to consider a no-war pact with Pakistan. But every proposal for removing tension and building trust and amity will be given serious consideration. Though the two leaders will discuss the CTBT issue, he rejected the possibility of the two sides adopting a common strategy on the matter.

Bilateral ties

The minister emphatically rejected suggestions that the two countries are moving towards improving bilateral ties under pressure from the US. ''There is no pressure. The suggestion that India-Pakistan relations are immature (to cope with the post- Pokhran and post-Chagai nuclear reality) is rejected. We know each other`s language very well and we don`t require any interpreters,`` he asserted.

Asked if he expected any breakthrough from the summit meeting, Mr Singh said India views Vajpayee`s journey across the border with a ''sense of realism, hoping to complete the journey``. The purpose of the dialogue will be to engage in dialogue, he added. To another query about the possibility of Mr Sharif undertaking a return journey to New Delhi, Mr Singh said the Pakistani prime minister will undertake it at a time convenient to him.

'Priority to Kashmir'

Islamabad today set the tone of the talks Prime Minister A B Vajpayee will be having with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore by asserting that Kashmir issue will be accorded ''highest priority`` and urged New Delhi to reciprocate the ''sincerity of purpose`` shown by it in recent times.

''Pakistani public opinion cannot indefinitely sustain a dialogue process that does not record substantive progress on the core issue of Kashmir,`` Foreign Minister Sartaz Aziz told reporters on the eve of the historic visit by Mr Vajpayee on board the maiden bus service between Delhi and Lahore.

''The settlement of the Kashmir issue will be accorded the highest priority,`` Mr Aziz said referring to the talks between Mr Vajpayee and Mr Sharif in Lahore on February 20 and 21.

Mr Vajpayee would be the first Indian prime minister to travel to Pakistan by road to hold highest level bilateral talks with his Pakistani counterpart to ease the growing tension and break the deadlock in the foreign secretary level talks on outstanding issues between the two countries.

Asked whether any positive result was expected in the talks between the two premiers, Mr Aziz said: ''When political leaders meet at the highest levels obviously you expect much more than what you expect from officials.``

''Political leaders can change the brief, they can even write the brief,`` Mr Aziz said.

Considering India has agreed to talks on the Kashmir issue Mr Aziz said, it was hoped ''They (two prime ministers) will find out how to move forward and hence we expect more extensive and meaningful dialogue.``

Mr Aziz claimed that in order to facilitate the dialogue process and improve the atmosphere for serious and meaningful negotiations, Pakistan had taken a number of steps as part of the confidence builidng measures (CBMs) with India which included release of fisherman, Lahore-Delhi bus service and sale of electicity.

''India must now reciprocate our sincerity of purpose if the present dilogue is to succeed,`` he said adding ''it (India) must seriously commit itself to a solution to the root cause of the tensions and hostilities between the two countries.``

Both the prime ministers had agreed earlier that an environment of durable peace and stability was in the supreme national interest of both the countries and that solution of all outstanding issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, was essential for the purpose.

''We expect that the two leaders should agree on concrete measures to build on the commitments contained in their joint statement at their meeting in New York in September last year,`` Mr Aziz said.

To a question that whether the two prime ministers are meeting at the instance of the major powers of the world specially the US, he said that since the nuclear blasts by both the countries last year, there is a regular pressure from the international community to resume dialogue and ease the tension and the negotiations which had started in October last year has now gone up to the highest political level with the meeting of the two premiers.

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