The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Discuss Kashmir & die, Atal tells Nam

Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 25: A day after Pervez Musharraf sprang the Kashmir issue on the Non-Aligned Movement Summit here, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee warned that the grouping “will die” if it got entangled in bilateral disputes.

“If this happens, Nam will die even before its (re)birth,” Vajpayee told journalists at the end of the Nam summit, the theme of which was to “revitalise” the movement of the developing world.

The note of caution was a dramatic parting shot from the Prime Minister, who had begun his summit engagements by outlining a blueprint for Nam’s survival in the post-Cold War unipolar world. Vajpayee had suggested that Nam reinvent itself around economic issues if it were to be meaningful. It could act as a collective bargaining body with the developed world in the interest of all member nations.

Further snubbing Pakistan, Vajpayee said Nam was not interested in putting Kashmir on its agenda. “I had the opportunity of speaking to a number of leaders during the summit. None of them showed any interest in Kashmir. They all felt it’s a bilateral issue which should be resolved between India and Pakistan,” he said. To drive home the point, he referred to host Malaysia’s comment that disputes between member countries should not be brought into Nam.

The Prime Minister felt Nam should follow the example of the Organisation of Islamic Countries and Asean, which have kept out bilateral disputes.

He indicated that Pakistan’s desperate measures would not bring India to the negotiating table. “I hope these (Malaysia’s) remarks will open the eyes of our friend (Pakistan),” he said.

Asked to comment on Musharraf’s remark that both hands were required to clap and if India was reluctant to resume dialogue, he was also not keen, the Prime Minister took a dig at the Pakistani leader, saying: “Tali nahi bajti to chutki baja lein. Kuch na kuch bajna chahiye (if he can’t clap, then let him snap his fingers. There should be some sound).”

Vajpayee made light of Pakistan’s attempt to equate the situation in Kashmir with the struggle in Palestine. “They have been trying to do this for many years now. They did not succeed in the past. There is no hope for them even in the future.” Distinguishing between the two situations, he said: “People of Kashmir want to stay with India.”

Interacting with the media for nearly 40 minutes on the summit’s concluding day, a relaxed Vajpayee spoke at length on Iraq, Nam’s relevance and Pakistan, but steered clear of domestic issues. The moment Ayodhya was mentioned, he quipped: “I am now going to meet the Lankans.” He had got a brief respite from these sticky domestic issues, he said, on which he will have to focus only a few hours later when he flies back to Delhi.

Earlier, as an aide began reading out his opening statement before the media, Vajpayee interrupted at the mention of the “Indian Prime Minister”. “I often wonder why I am referred to as the Indian Prime Minister, and not only as the Prime Minister. I don’t see any other Prime Minister in this room.” he said, adding: “Unless, of course, you already have a replacement in mind.”

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