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Delhi offers to help Pak fight oil spill

New Delhi, Aug. 14: India today added to its goodwill gestures by offering to help Pakistan contain an oil spill off Karachi port.

“Should the government of Pakistan respond positively, India would provide immediate cooperation through its capabilities, equipment and materials, including pollution response equipment, dispersants, containment boom,” foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said at a hurriedly-convened news conference.

The almost instant offer, he added, was in keeping with “Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s initiative in extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan”.

Around 11 am, the Pakistan High Commission informed India about the oil spill from the Greek oil tanker, MV Tasman. The information was conveyed because the huge oil slick would affect Indian coastal areas, too, especially along Gujarat and parts of Maharashtra. “It was our duty as a neighbour to inform India about what has happened so that the government could warn people of the problem,” a Pakistan diplomat said.

Soon after, an Indian government official called back with the offer of help. “We appreciate the Indian government gesture and have forwarded the message to Islamabad,” the diplomat said. Pakistan is yet to get back with its response.

According to reports from Pakistan, the tanker, around 100 metres off Karachi port, has developed cracks and is in danger of splitting into two. If it does, the vessel could spill as much as 40,000 tonnes of oil into the Arabian Sea.

A Pakistan team had secured 20,000 tonnes of oil of the tanker’s load of 67,000 after round-the-clock efforts. Further attempts were called off a day earlier.

An Indian official in private dubbed today’s offer the “spin-off of the Noor effect”. Pakistani child Noor Fatima had undergone a successful heart surgery in Bangalore after taking the first Lahore-Delhi bus on resumption of the service. The latest offer is the Centre’s signal that India is ready to expand people-to-people contact, humanitarian links and, generally, improve relations with Pakistan.

Earlier, the Indian commission in Islamabad had offered to give visas to 20 Pakistani children in need of medical attention in India. Munir, the 13-year-old Pakistani boy who strayed into India, was sent home on the Prime Minister’s intervention.

The goodwill gestures notwithstanding, India has continued to insist that a serious dialogue with Pakistan can happen only after Islamabad dismantles its support structure for cross-border terrorism.

When President Pervez Musharraf recently suggested to a visiting team of Indian parliamentarians and journalists that Delhi announce a ceasefire in Kashmir, India immediately rejected the proposal.

India said no ceasefire was necessary if Pakistan stopped helping militants in Kashmir as the situation would then improve on its own, making military action unnecessary.

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