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A dozen for Pak, Advani for Kashmir

New Delhi/Islamabad, Oct. 22: The Vajpayee government today sprang a surprise double peace initiative, making a dozen conciliatory gestures towards Pakistan and opening high-level dialogue with a separatist conglomerate in Kashmir.

Resumption of full cricketing ties and a proposal to start a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, are among the 12 steps announced by external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha after a meeting of the cabinet committee on security.

Simultaneously, the exercise of resolving internal differences on Kashmir was pitchforked to the highest level in government. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani will begin talks with the All Party Hurriyat Conference led by Abbas Ansari in a signal of Delhi’s commitment to working out a long-term solution with the involvement of the Kashmiri people.

Pakistan welcomed India’s proposals, but expressed disappointment at the rejection of its suggestion to start a composite dialogue to resolve all disputes, including Kashmir. “We have taken note of a series of proposals, which will receive serious consideration,” foreign office spokesman Masood Khan said.

Sinha said dialogue is possible, not perhaps at the summit level but between joint secretaries, and the onus of creating the condition for even that rests on Pakistan.

“Given the complexity of our relations, we cannot sort out our problems in one sitting. Pakistan should realise that a meaningful and sustained dialogue can only be possible once the violence comes down and this can only be done when Islamabad completely stops cross-border terrorism,” Sinha said.

Other than keeping the peace process — rekindled by the Prime Minister on a visit to Srinagar in April when he offered a hand of friendship — going, the Indian move is aimed at containing the pressure it faces from the US to resume talks with Pakistan.

It is telling Washington that Atal Bihari Vajpayee is keeping his part of the bargain with gradual doses of peace gestures, to which General Pervez Musharraf has to respond by stopping infiltration. The US tonight described the new initiative as a “major step”.

India also claims that with these measures, it is addressing the Pakistani people who are firmly behind Vajpayee’s peace initiative. “We are serious about the peace initiative taken by our Prime Minister to normalise relations with Pakistan,” Sinha said. “We will work overtime to make it work.”

He said there were two elements in India-Pakistan ties. One, an attempt to normalise relations and try to restore the position that existed between the two sides before the terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001. Two, resumption of dialogue, which can only happen when cross-border terrorism ceases.

Sinha said Vajpayee would travel to Islamabad in early January to participate in the Saarc summit. But the visit does not mean there will be a bilateral meeting with Pakistani leaders.

“It should be kept in mind that our Prime Minister will be travelling to Islamabad to attend a multilateral meeting.”

Many of today’s proposals are not new. For instance, the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service was proposed by India before the Agra summit in 2001, but did not meet with a positive response.

Asked whether the proposal legitimises the Line of Control further, Sinha said: “But the Line of Control is a reality that no one can deny.”

India expressed its willingness to start technical-level talks on resumption of air links but said the discussions would have to include overflight facilities which were terminated after the Parliament attack.

“History has taught us that good always wins over evil,” Sinha said, expressing hope that the way forward lay in proposals such as those announced today.

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