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Peace process not dead, says PM

By Harish Khare

New York Sept. 26 . The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, today expressed the view that the peace process with Pakistan was not over, notwithstanding the unpleasant exchange of words between the two countries in the United Nations General Assembly here. At the same time, he ruled out the possibility of any dialogue with Pakistan during the next SAARC summit, due to be held in Pakistan early next year.

However, Mr. Vajpayee regretted that the level of debate had come to this pass. At the same time, he asserted that India had replied tit for tat, though with becoming dignity. He was interacting with the media at the end of his visit.

Mr. Vajpayee did not agree with a suggestion that the good work that began with the Srinagar initiative had collapsed here in New York. "The peace efforts should continue."

The Prime Minister also rejected Pakistan's charge that "India was the mother of all terror" as well as the suggestion that India had rejected the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf's peace offer. He said India had always opposed terrorism and that it was he who had thrice extended the hand of friendship to Pakistan.

Mr. Vajpayee wondered why Pakistan's present rulers were keen on suggesting that the search for peace began at Agra, and why they were eager to de-legitimise the Lahore effort. However, he did concede that the United States President, George W. Bush, had asked India (as also Pakistan) to engage in a dialogue. But he hastened to add that this had been Washington's consistent policy. He told a reporter that any kind of bilateral dialogue with Gen. Musharraf during the coming SAARC summit was not possible. "The atmosphere is not conducive; it won't be productive." Nonetheless, Mr. Vajpayee took considerable satisfaction from the fact that the U.S. had agreed — during the course of a luncheon meeting two days ago — that cross-border terrorism was on the rise.

Asked how this assertion of rise in cross-border terrorism could be reconciled with his continued search for peace, and whether Pakistan would not be tempted to infer this as a sign of weakness, Mr. Vajpayee said, "I do not think so. We offer peace not from a point of weakness. India is not weak. Pakistan should know this, particularly after Kargil."

The Prime Minister was asked to justify why troops were deployed and then re-deployed without the decisive battle (aar-paar ki ladhai) he had promised to the nation when Parliament was attacked on December 13, 2001. Mr. Vajpayee defended the deployment, and re-deployment decisions as having "achieved their limited purpose."

`Iraq discussed'

He said that he had discussed the Iraq situation with both Mr. Bush and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. He noted that it was not a simple question of traditional peace-keeping in Iraq, rather it was now a matter of "peace-enforcement." There was also the question of who should have the responsibility for reconstruction in Iraq. He repeated his U.N. General Assembly formulation that sovereignty should revert back to the Iraqis at the earliest. India, according to him, would be ready to help with reconstruction once the Security Council came up with a new resolution; but, he hastened to add, in his view a new resolution was not going to come about in a hurry.

On the question of sending Indian troops to Iraq, Mr. Vajpayee said he had told the American interlocutors that New Delhi would have to keep in mind its internal security situation. And, this internal security situation hinged very much on the intensity of cross-border terrorism.

The Prime Minister was asked about Pakistan's recognition of the break-away faction of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). He noted that the split in the Hurriyat Conference was of no concern and that the invitation to the APHC to talk to New Delhi's interlocutor "still stands". However, he declared that there would be no special invitation to the APHC.

Mr. Vajpayee refused to be drawn into domestic issues; and pointedly refused a comment on the acquittal of the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, in the Ayodhya case.

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