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India-Pakistan talks: Lahore Declaration ignored, says Yashwant Sinha

By Neena Vyas

NEW DELHI, JUNE 29. The former External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, today charged the new Government with displaying a "petty political mindset" by ignoring the significant Lahore Declaration in the India-Pakistan joint statement issued yesterday at the end of the Secretary-level talks between the two countries.

The matter was one of the issues discussed today at a meeting called at his residence by the Bharatiya Janata Party president, Venkaiah Naidu, which was attended, among others, by the former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Leader of Opposition, L.K. Advani, the former Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, and Mr. Sinha.

Briefing reporters later, Mr. Sinha said the BJP had noted with satisfaction that the Secretary-level talks had taken place in accordance with the decision taken by the Vajpayee Government in February. The party was "happy" that there was an agreement on a timeframe for discussing other issues and taking the dialogue forward.

However, he expressed the party's concern that the Lahore Declaration had been completely ignored; the January 6, 2004, Islamabad joint statement was mentioned only in passing although there, for the first time, the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, had explicitly undertaken not to allow the Pakistani soil to be used for terrorist activity against India; the new statement had "diluted the stand on terrorism"; and finally, the Charter of the United Nations and the Shimla Agreement were mentioned in one breath in one sentence.

The party's view was that the Government should not ignore what had happened since the Shimla Agreement. The Lahore document and then the January 6 document were important as they set the parameters for the composite dialogue taking place now.

Mr. Sinha said that the Government had "encouraged" the Hurriyat leaders to meet the Pakistani delegates. "Later, the Pakistan Foreign Secretary spoke as if his country was representing Jammu and Kashmir, saying that what will satisfy Pakistan will satisfy the Kashmiris."

His charge was that the mention of the United Nations Charter could open a door for Pakistan to bring in the old U.N. resolutions on Kashmir into the bilateral dialogue. While Mr. Sinha admitted that the Vajpayee Government was also unable to prevent the Hurriyat leaders meeting Gen. Musharraf when he was here for the Agra Summit, he added: "If we made some mistakes when in office, it need not happen again."

To a question, Mr. Sinha said the BJP was "not making a mountain of a molehill," and that it had not decided to play a negative role on the issue of India-Pakistan relations. "We started the process; we would like to see it move forward in a positive manner," he said and denied that the Vajpayee Government had made a flip-flop on the India-Pakistan dialogue issue. "There were certain events to which we responded,'' he said, when asked of Mr. Vajpayee's call for a fight to the finish (aar paar ki ladayi) and then his offer of a "hand of friendship" without any change in the situation on the ground. "The general direction of the Vajpayee Government's policy towards Pakistan was that we wanted friendship between the two neighbours,'' Mr. Sinha said reiterating that the BJP was not going to play a negative role now that it was in the Opposition.

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