New Delhi/Islamabad, April 28: In the first contact at the highest level between Pakistan and India since the Agra Summit of 2001, the Prime Ministers of both countries spoke over the telephone tonight.
Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee for talks and said he was willing to visit India for the sake of peace. Extending the invitation, Jamali said: “I hope all issues, including Kashmir, will come into consideration.”
Jamali proposed resumption of sporting ties to boost relations while Vajpayee, official sources said, emphasised civil aviation links, economic and cultural cooperation and people-to-people contact.
Vajpayee and Jamali agreed to consider each other’s suggestions and get back with their views. Pakistan has been trying for long to resume cricketing ties which India had snapped citing cross-border terrorism.
Jamali made the first move by picking up the telephone to talk to Vajpayee for over 10 minutes, conveying his appreciation of the Prime Minister’s recent peace overtures to Islamabad.
The conversation between Vajpayee and Jamali signalled the first significant breakthrough in the bilateral chill and fuelled hope that the dialogue between the neighbours, stalled for nearly two years, could begin sooner than later.
Jamali referred to Vajpayee’s statements in Srinagar and in Parliament expressing his desire for peace with Pakistan and thanked him for taking the initiative to break the standoff.
Vajpayee set the ball rolling earlier this month when, at a public rally in Srinagar, he expressed his desire to resume the stalled talks with Pakistan. But he clarified that Islamabad would have to stop infiltration across the Line of Control and violence in Kashmir for Delhi to return to the talks table.
Later, Vajpayee had repeated the view in both Houses of Parliament.
The telephone conversation tonight indicated that the “atmospherics” in the India-Pakistan relations have, so far, been not only positive, but has improved considerably.
Foreign ministry officials, however, cautioned against “prejudging the evolving situation”. South Block officials said the “tone is not only as important but, at times, more important than the content in India-Pakistan relations”.
This means that the Vajpayee government will not rush into making announcements. One reason for the Centre’s wariness is Vajpayee’s unwillingness to make any announcement outside Parliament.
Another is the coming South Asia visit of US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage. Some in the government believe that Armitage will bring some assurance from Musharraf.
Pakistan sent the right signals in the evening by saying that provincial authorities have been ordered to crack down on militant groups functioning under new names.
No group was named but the banned Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad are known to have regrouped as Jamaat-ud-Dawaa and Khudam-ul Islam.