Wednesday, Dec 03, 2003
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By Our Special Correspondent
India had halted the Samjhauta Express travelling between Delhi and Lahore soon after the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament and also snapped air links with Pakistan, including overflight facilities. Pakistan reciprocated by stopping overflight facilities for Indian aircraft. The resumption of air and rail links form part of the peace initiative of the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, launched from Srinagar in April and the later response of the Pakistani Prime Minister, Mir Zaffarullah Khan Jamali. The External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, announced in October that if the civil aviation talks were successful, the next stage could be the resumption of rail links.
The Indian proposal on the Samjhauta Express was announced by the Foreign Secretary, Shashank, who assumed office today. Asked about the composite dialogue that Pakistan had been asking for, he told presspersons that progress at the technical-level talks on other proposals made by India as part of the peace initiative would eventually decide when the two countries could move for a dialogue.
Mr. Shashank declined comment on the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf's latest "offer'' to withdraw troops from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir provided India did the same with its troops from Kashmir.
He said that after the initial "inadequate and incomplete'' response from Pakistan to India's proposals, some counter proposals were coming from Islamabad. "We can take into account these statements, but there is no need to reply to each and every one of them. "Technical-level talks are going on and we are taking some confidence-building measures. Let us see how they progress and we hope to move eventually to the dialogue process.''
His response was similar to the question about Gen. Musharraf's offer to confer the `Nishan-e-Pakistan' on Mr. Vajpayee if the Kashmir issue was solved. "There is no need to reply to each and every statement,'' he said.
About Mr. Vajpayee's bilateral meetings with Pakistani leaders during the SAARC summit in Islamabad from January 4 to 6 next, the Foreign Secretary was non-committal. "The Prime Minister is going for the summit and would be interacting with Pakistani leaders attending the summit. So there will be some meetings. But we have to see their nature and how they will take place will have to be seen later and this will depend on the progress at the technical-level talks and how Pakistan meets its commitments to its unfulfilled agenda on SAARC-related issues,'' Mr. Shashank said.
India has turned down a proposal from Pakistan for a special flight for a group of young Indian businessmen now visiting that country. Gen. Musharraf, during his meeting with this group, had said they would be the first to fly out from Karachi after the successful conclusion of the talks on restoring air links. Later, it was decided that the restored air links would begin on January 1 next.
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