The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi opens heart to Pak children

New Delhi, July 24: First it was Noor Fatima, the two-and-a-half-year-old tiny tot from Pakistan, who got a new lease of life at a Bangalore hospital.

If all goes well, Khalid Junaid’s heart, too, would be mended in the southern city. And all at India’s cost.

A day after Khalid boarded the bus from Lahore which would take him to Delhi and from there to a Bangalore hospital, India tapped into the heart of the matter by announcing its decision to “fully fund” the travel, stay and treatment of 20 Pakistani children.

It has also decided to facilitate visa for all children who want to come to India for treatment.

The government’s move, aimed at the Pakistani public as well as the international community, came at a time when there was an increasing feeling that the peace process between the neighbours may have got stuck on the issue of resuming civil aviation links. It also came in the wake of cryptic remarks emerging from the two capitals on the recent bloodletting in Jammu and Kashmir.

India’s gesture was conveyed by foreign minister Yashwant Sinha to Aziz Ahmed Khan when the new Pakistani high commissioner made a “courtesy call” today. This was their first meeting since Khan presented his credentials to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on July 10.

Sinha admitted that the spontaneous response Fatima got from different parts of the country played an important role in the government’s decision to open the doors to more ailing children from across the border.

Officials in South Block, the seat of the foreign ministry, said India’s high commissioner in Islamabad, Shiv Shankar Menon, would “select” the 20 children who are to be sent to India.

The Indian mission in Pakistan receives requests from parents for treatment of children almost every day, said a senior official. “The high commissioner would be the best person to do the selection in this regard.”

If the proposed scheme takes off, Delhi, sources say, might extend the gesture to 20 more children. Though foreign ministry officials were unwilling to say how much it would cost to implement today’s decision, indications suggest it might vary between Rs 2 and 5 lakh in each case.

Sinha did not miss the opportunity of telling the Pakistani envoy that cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country would have to stop if a conducive atmosphere has to be created for normalising ties.

The foreign minister made it clear to the high commissioner that Pakistan should not allow terrorists to derail the peace process and stressed on the “importance of moving ahead in a step-by-step manner, building on the successes achieved and the confidence generated”.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna, however, said Delhi was still awaiting from Islamabad confirmation of the dates for technical-level discussions on resuming civil aviation links.

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