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Big Two speak in one voice
- PM sounded deputy before peace move

New Delhi, May 9: Amid speculation about perceived differences between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani over peace overtures to Pakistan, The Telegraph can reveal that the two leaders had a two-hour meeting a day before the Prime Minister launched his initiative from Srinagar.

Officials in the home ministry, under Advani’s charge, and sources in the Prime Minister’s camp confirm that Vajpayee did consult his second-in-command before offering the “hand of friendship” to Pakistan.

Home ministry officials go a step further to say the deputy Prime Minister fully supported Vajpayee’s move.

But, as the minister in charge of internal security, Advani wants Pakistan to “dismantle the terrorist infrastructure it funds and operates before there can be any meaningful dialogue”, an official said.

Rumours about differences between the two have been in currency for some time and received a fresh lease of life from Advani’s absence from the Lok Sabha when Vajpayee spoke on his initiative yesterday.

“I had informed the Prime Minister that as I was busy with work in the ministry, I would not be present in the House. I watched the entire proceedings, including the reply by the Prime Minister, on television,” he said at the BJP headquarters today.

Advani added that Vajpayee’s remarks on Pakistan were only a reiteration of India’s position.

“Our stand is the same — you have to stop cross-border terrorism. But we have definitely said that when we insist that cross-border terrorism must end we don’t mean that there can be no friendship,” he said.

Vajpayee has said much the same thing. Sources close to Vajpayee said while Advani was certainly aware of the broad thrust of the peace initiative, he could not have known the language the Prime Minister would couch it in when he spoke in Srinagar.

Defence minister George Fernandes and finance minister Jaswant Singh had queries about the Prime Minister’s move, but gave in to “the superior wisdom of their leader”.

Advani may have borne the same misgivings, but is keen on backing Vajpayee all the way. “Friendship is in our interest, Pakistan’s interest, in the interest of the world,” he said.

For now at least, there is no insistence from the deputy Prime Minister on Pakistan handing over the 20 individuals named on a list that had been given to Islamabad.

“It’s not that we don’t want to give peace a chance, but we must learn from experience not to rush into situations with our eyes closed. Remember what happened after Agra. We need to be doubly careful not to be taken for a ride,” a home ministry official said.

When the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, meets Advani tomorrow, the deputy Prime Minister is likely to stress that Pakistan shows it really means business.

 

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