The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Envoy returns with hand of friendship

New Delhi, May 2: Sending out a clear signal for renewing talks with Pakistan, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today told Parliament he wanted to restore diplomatic, civil aviation and sporting links between the two countries.

“It has been decided to appoint a high commissioner to Pakistan and to restore civil aviation links on a reciprocal basis,” Vajpayee said in a statement read out in both Houses on his phone conversation with Pakistan counterpart Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali on Monday.

This is the third time --- after the Lahore bus diplomacy and the Agra summit --- that Vajpayee is taking a shot at bettering bilateral relations. The government had snapped all diplomatic ties with Pakistan after the terrorist strike on Parliament in December 2001.

“The third round of talks with Pakistan will be decisive and the last dialogue with the country in my lifetime,” Vajpayee said in an emotional outburst in the Rajya Sabha later. But he made it clear he had no immediate plans of going to Pakistan.

Islamabad welcomed the move, announcing it would fully reciprocate it. “This is a very good sign. I think it is a new beginning after the Agra summit,” President Pervez Musharraf said.

Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said “knowing Pakistan’s policy… it stands to reason that we are for the upgrading of (ties)”. But he added Jamali would make a “concrete announcement” on the ambassador to Delhi “in due course”.

The US congratulated both countries. Secretary of state Colin Powell said India’s decision was “very, very promising”.

In Parliament, the Opposition welcomed the peace initiative but demanded to know what had pushed Vajpayee into taking it. “The answer… lies in the changed international situation. The world is unipolar and gravitating towards one centre of power. We do not want any one nation to become the sole pivot of power,” he said.

Vajpayee also hinted that the US-led war on Iraq had impacted his decision. He has been suggesting off and on that one lesson to be learnt from the war is that unless nations resolved differences bilaterally, external intervention could be expected.

“There are some nations which have taken it upon themselves to decide the future of other nations,” Vajpayee said.

Replying later to legislators’ queries in the Rajya Sabha, Vajpayee said Jamali had invited him to Pakistan but he had turned down the offer. “The Prime Minister suggested resuming sporting links…. I emphasised the importance of economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, people-to-people contacts and civil aviation links. We agreed that as a beginning these measured could be considered.”

Underlining that Jamali had condemned terrorism, he said: “We have repeatedly expressed the need to create a conducive atmosphere for a sustained dialogue which requires an end to cross-border terrorism….”

Vajpayee made it clear not all his “friends” appreciated the gesture. In an oblique reference to critics in the Sangh parivar, he said: “In the eyes of my compatriots, I am in the dock for opening a channel of communication with Pakistan.”

But his tone was confident and hopeful that the future would see easing of tensions. “The road ahead is bumpy. But I do not see darkness,” he said.

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