The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Onus on Pak ahead of US visit

New Delhi, May 2: India has put the ball squarely in Pakistan’s court after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced in Parliament this afternoon that Delhi will soon “appoint” a high commissioner to Islamabad and restore civil aviation links with the neighbouring country on a reciprocal basis.

“This is Pakistan’s last chance to take care of India’s security concerns and normalise bilateral relations,” said a senior foreign ministry official.

The rail and road links and cultural ties, including the resumption of cricketing ties, could lead to strengthening people-to-people contact and could be seen as confidence-building-measures between the two nations. Indications suggest that Delhi would like to assess the steps taken by Pakistan on checking infiltration and violence in Kashmir before making any further move.

Vajpayee’s announcement comes a week before US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage is scheduled to visit the region. By making his intention clear to send the high commissioner, the Prime Minister perhaps wanted to pre-empt criticism that the decision was taken because of US pressure.

The Indian move has been welcomed by US secretary of state Colin Powell. “I am very pleased with developments in the subcontinent over the last several weeks,” Powell said at a news conference in the Albanian capital, Tirana, today.

“All this is very, very promising at a time when people were beginning to wonder whether or not they were going back to the potential for conflict.”

Powell added: “I congratulate the leaders of both sides on these first steps — that are just that, first steps on the way to finding a way forward.”

Vajpayee’s decision was also praised by British foreign secretary Jack Straw, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov and his Japanese couterpart Oriko Kawaguchi. Indian foreign minister Yashwant Sinha spoke to his counterparts in these countries to brief them on the latest development.

In June last year, after President Pervez Musharraf promised to the US that he would completely stop infiltration across the Line of Control, India had selectively leaked the name of 1968-batch career diplomat Harsh Bhasin as its high commissioner to Islamabad. But as there was no change in the ground scenario in Kashmir, Bhasin remained high commissioner “designate” for nearly a year.

South Block officials are not keen to hazard a guess whether Bhasin will finally be sent. There are indications that his name has already been proposed as India’s ambassador to Denmark and, thus, a new person may now be sent to Pakistan. But as he had spent so many months waiting for the coveted posting in Islamabad, it may not come as a surprise if Bhasin is ultimately sent to Pakistan.

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