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Sonia backs Vajpayee with Agra warning

New Delhi, May 8: Sonia Gandhi today extended her party’s support to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiative, but warned the Prime Minister against rushing into talks with Pakistan without adequate groundwork so that the “Agra fiasco” is not repeated.

The Congress president asked Vajpayee to specify a time frame for resumption of dialogue with Islamabad.

Though she backed the gesture, Sonia lashed out at what she called the National Democratic Alliance government’s lack of “clarity, conviction and consistency” in policies on relations with Pakistan.

She wanted to know if Vajpayee had “enthusiastic and total” backing of the allies, his Cabinet and party colleagues as also “of his own ideological brotherhood”.

“We are puzzled and the country awaits an explanation for the inconsistent and contradictory statements by the Prime Minister, deputy Prime Minister and external affairs minister from time to time on such a vital matter,” she said. “We only wish that the BJP-led…government’s policies with regard to Pakistan have clarity, conviction and consistency. The government’s stance has vacillated from extreme to another giving rise to the impression that we are responding to external pressures.”

Sonia, who initiated the debate on Indo-Pak relations in the Lok Sabha, said “in spite of these inconsistencies, we have extended our broad and sustained support to the government on matters relating to national security, cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and Indo-Pak relations”.

Sonia wanted to know if the government, which has repeatedly ruled out talks with Pakistan unless cross-border terrorism ends in Kashmir, has got some firm commitments from Islamabad. “Are we to understand that this remains the pre-condition for the resumption of dialogue'” she asked.

She said her party’s stand has been clear. The Congress, she added, has always said the windows of dialogue — official and unofficial, formal and informal — must be kept open at all times on “all issues of mutual concern and interest”.

Sonia said the Congress had supported Vajpayee’s 1999 Lahore visit, but was realistic enough not to go overboard as the then foreign minister who termed it a “defining moment in Indo-Pak relations”.

The “defining moment”, she added, was provided by the Kargil war, preparations for which were going on while Vajpayee was being greeted in Lahore.

She also criticised the government for suddenly deciding on the Agra summit in 2001 without a structured agenda. “There is no question of partitioning Jammu and Kashmir,” she said.

“That is simply unacceptable. There is also no question of handing over Kashmir…. That, too, is unacceptable. Let us be very clear on what we will not accept. Only then we can move forward.”

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