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Morning shows a peace-bound Delhi

New Delhi, May 7: India today sent the name of its new high commissioner to Islamabad and welcomed restoration of civil aviation links.

Although India has sought clarifications whether resumption will include direct air services and overflight facilities and expressed reservations about the trade proposals, it does not intend to do anything to jeopardise the peace process.

“We welcome the fact that Pakistan has responded to the initiative of our Prime Minister,” foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said in a statement this evening.

The reaction today suggests India already has a roadmap in mind to normalise relations. It will continue to announce steps — depending on Islamabad’s response — to ensure Pakistan fulfils the criterion for creating a conducive atmosphere that could lead to a summit between the two Prime Ministers.

“It is quite clear that several specific steps would need to be taken by Pakistan to move this (peace) process meaningfully forward. We, on our part, remain fully committed to improving relations between the two countries.”

Sources said India’s ambassador to Beijing, Shiv Shankar Menon, who completes his current tenure in August, has been named high commissioner to Pakistan. His name will be announced only after Islamabad’s green signal.

Pakistan has so far not sent the name of its new high commissioner to Delhi. But it is expected in a day or two. Usually, the process takes a few weeks to be completed, but given the urgency on both sides, it should not come as a surprise if it is rushed through.

India also welcomed the humanitarian gesture made by Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, releasing Indian fishermen. Twenty-two Sikh youths and the crew members of the Indian cargo boat Raj Laxmi are in custody in Pakistan.

On Jamali’s proposal to resume road, rail and sporting ties, Delhi said a decision will be taken only after India is satisfied that Pakistan is taking visible steps against cross-border terrorism.

Last night, immediately after Jamali announced the confidence-building steps, Delhi had reacted with deep disappointment, saying that these were “completely inadequate”.

That response stemmed from the unhappiness at the absence of any measures against cross-border terrorism in Jamali’s package. His proposal to put 78 items for trade at concessional rates of duty in the Saarc region also fell short of expectation.

Today, not only is that edge absent from Delhi’s demeanour, but there is also a clear indication that its desire to keep the normalisation process going overrides almost every other consideration.

After making Delhi’s displeasure clear last night, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his close aides sat together to come out with a statement that would highlight the positive aspects of the Pakistani proposals without losing sight of India’s concerns. Vajpayee is likely to speak in Parliament tomorrow on the peace initiatives.

“The Prime Minister had made it clear in his May 2 statement in Parliament that a sustained dialogue would necessarily require an end to cross-border terrorism and the dismantling of its infrastructure,” the foreign ministry spokesman said.

Date for talks

Late June may be the earliest that “tiered” dialogue gets under way, AFP reports quoting officials in Islamabad.

Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri today suggested a two-month time frame for the two countries to hold meetings at the official level followed by talks between the foreign ministers.

Senior officials at the high commissioner or deputy secretary level “will meet probably some time in late June to do the initial spadework like setting an agenda”, a government official said.

The next stage would see foreign secretaries get together to prepare the ground for talks between the foreign ministers.

Only after the foreign ministers meet would preparations begin for a summit between Jamali and Vajpayee.

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