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Lahore bus brings back Pakistan envoy

May 27: Pakistan today proposed Aziz Ahmed Khan, known for his moderate views on foreign policy, as high commissioner to India as the peace process appeared to have received a new push after New Delhi’s announcement yesterday to resume the bus service to Lahore.

Khan, who is now the spokesperson for the foreign ministry, has worked in India before as a senior diplomat. He has also been envoy to Afghanistan.

Delhi will take a couple of days to complete the formalities, having already named its high commissioner — Shiv Shankar Menon — to Pakistan.

There were indications today on both sides of the move towards talks picking up pace with Pakistan weighing the possibility of giving India most-favoured nation status in trade and repeating its offer to Delhi to participate in a project to lay a gas pipeline from Iran across Pakistani territory into India. Islamabad said it was prepared to extend any security guarantee India wanted.

Before leaving on his Europe tour, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said: “Some steps have been taken. More steps will be taken…. I believe an atmosphere will be created in which talks can start.”

He did not let up the pressure on Pakistan to act against militant groups operating from its soil. “We want terrorism to end as early as possible, for the infrastructure of terrorism to be destroyed.”

In an act expected to win approval in Delhi, the Jamaat-e-Islami, regarded as the political support behind the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, has asked the militant outfit to move out of its premises. The Hizb, the largest militant group operating in Jammu and Kashmir, has been operating from the Jamaat premises since 1990.

Jaamat’s step followed a series of measures initiated by the government cracking down on militancy.

General Pervez Musharraf responded to India’s proposal for intelligence sharing to curb militancy.

“If India makes a concrete proposal in this regard, we are ready to consider it. We will have to see as to why and what type of intelligence Pakistan can share with India,” he said in an interview.

He said Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, and not he, would hold talks with Vajpayee. “I will not become an obstacle,” he said

Steps that could follow in the immediate future are resumption of the Samjhauta Express service and restoration of the staff strength at the two high commissions to the normal level of 110 each.

India is also awaiting a response on the resumption of air links.

Officials in Delhi said new announcements from India will depend on how Pakistan responds. “We have to see what steps they are taking in the field of trade and whether it is seriously doing something against terrorists based on its soil,” an official said.

Jamali, who had cancelled a meeting of his Cabinet yesterday, has once again called his senior ministerial colleagues for consultations, possibly to discuss trade concessions.

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