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Lahore summit may offer many chances: Jaswant

Reiterates time for map-making is over

By Seema Guha

NEW DELHI: External affairs minister Jaswant Singh billed the meeting between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif later this week as ``the most significant historical engagement between India and Pakistan since the Shimla agreement of 1972.'' Mr Singh set the tone for the dialogue between the two leaders by hinting at immense possibilities, but spelling out nothing. He was briefing reporters on Thursday on the Prime Minister's trip to Pakistan.

The Indian government's mood can best be described as one of cautious optimism. Asked if the Lahore summit would achieve a breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations, Mr Singh reply was careful: ``We approach this journey as all journeys with a sense of realism to complete it.''

The minister said all issues, including the contentious Kashmir question which had generated decades of animosity and two wars between India and Pakistan, would all be up for discussion. ``We will candidly put across our concerns on Kashmir, this is after all the purpose of the dialogue,'' the minister said. The minister was asked if he stuck to his views that India and Pakistan should stop engaging in map-making exercises, he said he did. ``After 50 years I feel the time for map-making in the region is over.'' He refused to elaborate on this, leading to speculations if the two governments would consider accepting the line of control (LoC) in Kashmir as the final international boundary between India and Pakistan. Pragmatists on both sides of the border have always felt that this could be the most practical solution to the boundary issue.

The minister emphatically denied that the United States had any role to play in prodding India and Pakistan to begin serious negotiations at the highest level with each other. ``There has been no pressure from any side at any point of time. India and Pakistan understand each other's language and so do not need an interpreter's assistance in their dialogue,'' he said.

The Prime Minister's decision to accept Mr Sharif's invitation to Pakistan was not at anyone's insistence, he said. The foreign secretaries of the two countries had already completed one round of discussions and the second has been postponed for the summit. They would continue after the two Prime Ministers completed their discussions and gave political direction to the efforts for making peace. Mr Sharif would not take the bus back to New Delhi with Mr Vajpayee, but is expected to visit India sometime later. Dates have not yet been finalised.

Mr Singh could not be drawn out on questions of a no-war pact, the nuclear issue and a joint stand on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). He confined his comments to saying that those topics would be given serious consideration by the two leaders.

The feeling in the government today is that the mood is right for improving relations with Pakistan. ``There is political will for the first time on both sides,'' an official in the PMO said. ``In such a climate nothing can be ruled out.'' In both India and Pakistan the two governments have sensed the new mood and gone along with it, raising unprecedented expectations. It is unlikely that either Nawaz Sharif or Atal Behari Vajpayee, two shrewd politicians, will raise expectations without having something worthwhile to show for the hype.

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