The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vajpayee rules out Pak talks now

Jammu, Aug. 29: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today struck down any chance of talks with Pakistan in the near future, saying the normality required to hold them was “non-existent” in Jammu and Kashmir.

Holding up the militant strike in Srinagar during the showpiece chief ministers’ council as proof that terrorism had far from ended, he said: “Terrorist violence is going on. Whatever happened yesterday clearly shows the situation is not normal. How can meaningful talks take place without normalcy'”

Although there have been stirrings of a thaw in bilateral relations of late, a formal dialogue with Islamabad has never been on Delhi’s roster. The earliest that such talks could have happened is on the sidelines of the Saarc summit early next year, but Vajpayee has not committed that he will not attend that meeting.

Skilfully turning the gun on Pakistan while fielding a query on its cry for a ceasefire along the border, he said: “I cannot understand. If they stop firing, there will be a ceasefire. There is no violence from our side.”

Speaking to reporters before winding up his three-day visit, Vajpayee said it was not fair to say his peace initiative had not yielded any result.

There had been an exchange of diplomats and flight talks were underway though they had hit an air pocket yesterday. Certain difficulties had arisen but those would be slowly ironed out, he said.

“The process is slow but then that is our policy. We would like to move step by step,” he said.

“For so many years, no solution was found. It will take some time for it. Even talks have not begun. A conducive atmosphere has to be created for holding meaningful talks.”

But he rejected outright the demand that Kashmir should be on top of the talks agenda. “That is what they (Pakistan) say. We don’t agree with it. Kashmir is only one of the issues to be discussed,” he said.

Nor did the Prime Minister seem willing to pander too much to the Hurriyat Conference. Saying Hurriyat leaders “were welcome if they are willing to talk” — deputy L.K. Advani had indicated yesterday the Big Two were ready to directly talk to them — he made it clear it was not up to the Hurriyat to decide at what level the talks would begin. That was the government’s prerogative, Vajpayee stressed.

The Prime Minister also announced a nine-point package for the speedy development of the state.

The schemes include a Rs 175-crore scheme to improve water supply; a 220 kw single-circuit transmission line from Srinagar to Leh via Kargil; a Rs 30 crore one-time grant for the University of Jammu; 500 new tenements and shifting of some border villages affected by shelling; and opening up of Kendriya Vidyalayas.

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