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Delhi ties train to plane take-off

New Delhi, Aug. 19: Denying Pakistan propaganda space, India has made it clear that the Samjhauta Express — the only rail link between the neighbours — can resume only after talks have been completed on resuming civil aviation links.

The two countries are slated to start talks on resuming air service at the end of the month. But Islamabad has been reluctant to start a dialogue on reviving air links, realising that snapping of links, including overflight rights, has been hurting Delhi more as most Indian commercial flights use Pakistani airspace.

India feels Pakistan’s eagerness to start negotiations on resuming the rail link is just a ploy to delay talks on reviving the air service. “We will start talks on resuming the rail link, but first let there be a samjhauta,” a senior South Block official said. He made it clear that the rail link will be discussed only after air services are restored.

Although it has not stated so explicitly, the Indian leadership feels Pakistan is trying to put off talks on reviving air links to hog the international limelight. It thinks Islamabad may choose to resume air links and press for reviving the rail service on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly session in the third week of September.

This will help it score valuable brownie points at the international forum for it will be able to claim that bus, air and rail links with India have been restored. Pakistan may then try to get the world community to pressure India into resuming the stalled peace talks.

Delhi does not want this to happen, and would rather gradually step up people-to-people contact and ensure that Pakistan does not sidestep India’s main concern — cross-border terrorism. Delhi is ready to deal with Pervez Musharraf to normalise bilateral relations. But it has made it clear that a dialogue at the highest political level will not take place till the leadership in Islamabad shows “determination” and “greater clarity” in addressing India’s main concerns.

It has also clarified that though Atal Bihari Vajpayee will visit Islamabad in January to participate in the Saarc summit, he will not meet the Pakistan President separately on the sidelines of the regional heads of government meet. Delhi said any discussion the Prime Minister has with Pakistani leaders will be in the context of the regional forum and not at the bilateral level.

A foreign ministry official described Pakistan’s charge that India was running 55 terrorist training camps in Kashmir for subversive activities as “outlandish”.

Referring to remarks made by Masood Khan yesterday, the official said: “It clearly shows that the Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman has a sense of humour. The role of a spokesman is not to put spokes in the peace effort but to strengthen it. This is a clear indication that he is not at all in sync with the popular mood among the people of Pakistan for peace with India,” he added.

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