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Atal’s Pak bouquet that never was

New Delhi, Oct. 2: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had given finishing touches to a bouquet of “concessions” to Pakistan on the eve of Independence Day but Pervez Musharraf’s outburst on August 14 ensured that the goodwill gesture was buried before it reached Red Fort the next day.

Taking the wraps off the thaw that never was, a senior official in South Block said that on August 14, Vajpayee was willing to offer conditional talks as well as pullback of troops from the border.

The Prime Minister would have given an assurance to resume dialogue with Islamabad after Pakistan’s general elections were over, if the Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir passed peacefully.

Vajpayee was also inclined to announce withdrawal of Indian troops from the border after the Kashmir elections.

“Vajpayee was waiting to see signs in the Pakistani President’s speech that would give him an opportunity to make the overture towards Islamabad,” the official said.

But Musharraf used the opportunity of August 14 — Pakistan’s Independence Day — to launch one of the most vitriolic attacks on Delhi.

“To put it mildly, there were no positive signals in Musharraf’s speech,” the official added.

Not only did the Pakistan President pour scorn, he also discouraged Kashmiris from exercising their franchise.

In the subsequent weeks leading up to the United Nations General Assembly session, Musharraf tried to make a distinction between “terrorists” and “those fighting for freedom in Kashmir” and touched one of Delhi’s raw nerves — Gujarat.

Musharraf’s mention of the riots in Gujarat forced Vajpayee to mount a sharp rebuke in New York and abandon all hopes of an early return to the negotiating table with Islamabad.

However, key international players, particularly the US, feel that the two South Asian neighbours should resume talks as soon as possible.

India had earlier hinted it might resume dialogue with Pakistan later in the year if elections in Jammu and Kashmir were peaceful.

But signals emanating from Delhi now suggest a hardening of its position.

Delhi feels that despite assurances to western interlocutors, Pakistan has not made any attempt to either bring down infiltration levels across the Line of Control or the violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

The attack at the Swaminarayan temple in Gandhinagar has led the Indian leadership to believe that Islamabad is in no mood to give up its policy of “compulsive hostility”.

Senior officials in the foreign ministry said a breakthrough is possible only if positive signals come out of Pakistan after the general elections there later this month.

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