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Vajpayee talks peace with terror rider

New Delhi, Aug. 16: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee acknowledged the mood for peace among the people of India and Pakistan and yet again offered his hand of friendship to the neighbouring country, urging it to walk the road to peace.

Vajpayee, however, cautioned Pakistan that India’s frequent desire for peace should not be construed as its weakness. He stressed that Islamabad’s sincerity in improving relations will be tested by the steps it takes to completely stop cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The road is decidedly bumpy. There are even mines strewn along this path. Yet, once we start walking, we will find the hurdles getting out of our way,” the Prime Minister said in his speech while addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort during yesterday’s Independence Day celebrations.

That he has succeeded in making this speech as India’s Prime Minister six years in a row was not lost on Vajpayee. Taking credit for running the National Democratic Alliance without any major hitch he said: “All previous experiments in running coalition governments at the Centre had failed. We have succeeded.”

Vajpayee’s speech was as much an attempt to renew his offer of friendship to Pakistan as it was to tell the nation the achievements of the NDA government in the last five years. He claimed that the world saluted India not only as the largest democracy but also as a strong, emerging economic nation and powerful country dedicated to peace.

The Prime Minister also announced Chandrayan I, India’s first mission to the moon, by 2008. “Our country is now ready to fly high in the field of science. I am pleased to announce that India will send her own spacecraft to the moon by 2008. It is being named Chandrayan I,” he said.

To Pakistan, Vajpayee said the overwhelming support that Noor Fatima got from the people of India when the baby girl came here for heart surgery was a clear indication of this country’s desire to have peace with the neighbour. “Let us open some new doors, new windows and new light-holes in the walls that divide us.”

Vajpayee stressed the need to increase trade and economic links between the two countries and said Pakistan’s sincerity in this can be tested by the steps it takes to stop cross-border terrorism.

In April, Vajpayee offered his hand of friendship to Islamabad while addressing a rally in Srinagar. The Pakistani leadership responded warmly and, in the step-by-step approach initiated by Delhi, the two neighbours brought down the temperature in South Asia considerably in the past few months.

As a result, there have been renewed people-to-people contacts between the two nations and the respective governments have even sent back their high commissioners to man missions in each other’s capitals.

The Prime Minister suggested India was willing to walk the road to peace with Pakistan, but made it clear that this will not be done by compromising on India’s security. Delhi has been insisting that the dialogue between the two sides at the highest political level can only be resumed once Islamabad takes visible and verifiable steps to end cross-border terrorism. Vajpayee’s remarks yesterday showed that there has been no softening of India’s position.

Pak rejects India offer

Pakistan has declined the Indian offer of assistance to deal with the environmental hazard caused by the breaking of an oil tanker, saying it is well equipped to deal with the crisis, says PTI.

The Prime Minister said those talking about the right to self-determination for Kashmiris were trying to divide India on communal lines. He asserted that such attempts will not be allowed to be successful. He pointed out that his government was committed to solve the “knotty problems” of Kashmir, but stressed that it can only be done through a peaceful dialogue.

Vajpayee also took the opportunity to tell the nation about his government’s achievements in the past five years. “The nation is at such a turning point from where it can take a big leap forward. The yearning to achieve the lofty vision of making India a developed nation by 2020 is gathering strength all over the country.”

The Prime Minister claimed that poverty is declining. “It is our resolve to eradicate it faster.” Vajpayee added that the Rs 54,000-crore National Highways Development Project is progressing rapidly and there are three lakh people working on it every day. This figure will go up to six lakhs per day next year.

The Prime Minister pointed out that in the first five decades of Independence, only 550 km of four-lane highways was built. “Now, we would build 24,000 kilometres of highways at the rate of 11 kilometres a day.” He claimed that lakhs of young Indians have got attractive employment in the field of computers. “Sitting in our cities, they are providing services to hospitals, factories and offices in various countries. Software exports have increased manifold from Rs 8,000 crore to nearly Rs 50,000 crore.”

The Prime Minister underlined that India, a nation of more than 60 crore people under 30 years of age, is all set to create a new history.

“This generation is better educated than any generation in the past and more ambitious than any generation in the past. It is a generation that has made up its mind not to fall behind anyone in the world in this age of competition.”

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