The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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House sanctity for talks offer

New Delhi, April 23: It’s official now.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today elevated his last week’s speech in Srinagar to the status of government policy when he told the Lok Sabha that India had indeed made a gesture of conciliation to Pakistan.

“We have extended our hand of friendship,” Vajpayee said, expressing the hope that “a new beginning can take place between India and Pakistan”.

The Prime Minister said Pakistan can open the door for talks by stopping cross-border infiltration and destroying terrorist infrastructure in its territory. “Talks”, he added, can “take place on all issues, including that of Jammu and Kashmir”.

In Islamabad, President Pervez Musharraf said he was glad to see “positive indications” from India which could be pursued to “greater interacting process”.

“Pakistan wishes to resolve all its issues with India peacefully,” he said, speaking for the first time since Vajpayee’s statement.

Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri pitched in with his share of new-found bonhomie by making a fresh offer to Delhi to participate in a multi-billion-dollar pipeline project from Turkmenistan. Kasuri said the offer was made in the spirit of reconciliation displayed by Vajpayee.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani publicly threw his weight behind Vajpayee’s peace effort by affirming the talks offer.

“Let them abandon the path of terrorism and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. I am sure not only the Government of India but the people are willing to respond,” he said in the Rajya Sabha.

In an interview with an Indian TV channel, Kasuri responded: “We are committed to combating terrorism.”

In a statement on his two-day visit to the Valley, Vajpayee spelt out his government’s changing policy on Pakistan. Since September 11, the National Democratic Alliance government has been ruling out talks unless Pakistan stopped sponsoring what it calls cross-border terrorism.

Today, recalling what he had said in Srinagar, the Prime Minister talked about a new beginning.

“Both countries should resolve that we need to live together in peace,” Vajpayee said.

In Kashmir he had also said that “we should take lessons from Iraq” in a throwaway remark that figured indirectly in the House today.

Accused by the Opposition of acting under Washington’s pressure, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha said: “Compulsive hostility to the US is a baggage we should leave behind…this is not suited to our national interest.”

Embedded in the statement is a clear acknowledgement of the reality of unchallenged US supremacy and acceptance that Delhi cannot possibly go on stonewalling Washington’s calls for talks with Pakistan.

There has been speculation in the media about a possible dip in Indo-US ties after Parliament passed a resolution deploring the war on Iraq. In the House today, a BJP member described the resolution as a “national irrelevance”, which should gladden President George W. Bush’s heart.

On his Kashmir trip, Vajpayee said: “I stressed that the gun can solve no problem; brotherhood can. Issues can be resolved if we move forward guided by the three principles of insaaniyat (humanism), jamhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s age-old legacy of Hindu-Muslim amity).”

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