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Delhi focus on Kashmir devolution

Nicosia (Cyprus), Oct. 7: Now that the elections in Jammu and Kashmir are virtually over, India will tell the world they represent a credible expression of the people’s will and the international community should accept that.

That the people of Jammu and Kashmir have rejected violence and shown their faith in democracy is going to be the key message that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the European leaders he would meet during his week-long sojourn to Cyprus, Denmark and Britain.

A senior official source said that once the internal situation in Jammu and Kashmir stabilises, Delhi would begin a serious dialogue on devolution of powers with the newly elected state government. He said that if things go well, an attempt would be made to settle the devolution issue by May next year.

The elections in Pakistan, the official said, had already been fixed. They could not, therefore, be compared with those held in Jammu and Kashmir.

Setting the tone for his message to the international community, Vajpayee told an NRI gathering in the Cypriot capital that there was no question of India giving up Kashmir. “Such a question does not arise because Kashmir is linked to our very existence (as a secular nation). And, in this, we have the consent of the people of Kashmir. No force has been used,” he said.

Those who thought that India would get tired and would give up Kashmir had been given a fitting reply by the people through the Assembly elections, Vajpayee added.

The Prime Minister said India had taken the “wishes of the Kashmiri people” into account through the elections. “But ask General Musharraf whose wishes were involved in his becoming President' He did not ask anyone before anointing himself,” Vajpayee said.

Pakistan, he said is not a democratic country and has no respect for democracy. “I used to be the leader of the Opposition but today I am the Prime Minister. In Paksitan, the leader of the Opposition is in exile. Neither Benazir Bhutto nor Nawaz Sharif can participate in elections despite wanting to do so. The world has not seen such a dictatorship. This cannot last long,” Vajpayee said.

The official source said that no clear answer could be expected on any timetable for the withdrawal of the Indian armed forces from the border as “all options were open” even now. He ruled out any talks with General Pervez Musharraf -- unless the international community came down heavily on Pakistan.

He argued that India had always been for peace and that it was Pakistan which took provocative action. “We went to Lahore. We invited General Musharraf to Agra even after Kargil. What other proof is required of India’s desire for peace'” he asked.

“We have always said that if Pakistan ends cross-border terrorism, we will offer it a dialogue on all issues including Kashmir,” the official said.

However, he added that the movement on one issue should not be allowed to affect the progress on others. It would be unfair to the people of India and Pakistan to get stuck on a single issue (Kashmir) and not allow a movement forward on the multiplicity of issues concerning the two countries.

Earlier, Prime Minister Vajpayee in an interview to Cypriot newspaper Politis said: “Pakistan should understand that there can be no double standards on terrorism: it cannot fight terrorism to its West and sponsor to its East. Its membership of the international coalition against terrorism cannot be used as a cover for terrorist activities directed against India.”

Vajpayee made it clear that the Indian relationship with the US was not predicated on Pakistan’s relationship with that country. He said that India welcomed Pakistan’s “strategic decision” to joint he international coalition against terrorism. “We endorse the wisdom of this decision” he said but condemned Pakistan’s double standards on terrorism. “Beyond this, we are not concerned about Pakistan’s relations with any country,” the Prime Minister said.

Vajpayee said that in the Jammu and Kashmir elections, “the people have clearly shown their rejection of violence and their faith in the democratic process.” He said that “the satisfactory voter turnout in the face of severe intimidation and threats to both voters and candidates is a decisive triumph of the ballot over the bullet.”

Vajpayee reiterated India’s position that if Pakistan ended its sponsorship of cross-border terrorism, a dialogue would be offered to it on all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.

The Prime Minister, who arrived here this afternoon, is expected to hold discussions with President Glafcos Clerides tomorrow. Five agreements are likely to be signed, concerning co-operation in information technology and services, public health and medical sciences, science and technology, posts and telecom and revival of cultural exchange.

Vajpayee is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Cyprus after Indira Gandhi who visited the island in 1983.

Vajpayee’s visit comes at a crucial juncture in the history of Cyprus when it is engaged in direct talks with the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (which India does not recognise) and when it is poised to join the European Union. Cyprus has not only supported India fully in condemning terrorism and cross-border terrorism but has also been a votary of India becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

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