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Pak joins peace game with pinch

Islamabad/New Delhi, Oct. 29: Pakistan today responded to India’s dozen peace proposals, accepting some, sidestepping the tricky ones and springing traps of its own.

“We carefully studied the proposals and decided to respond positively in the hope that the latest reciprocal steps taken by the two countries will lead to resumption of meaningful dialogue,” foreign secretary Riaz H. Khokhar said.

Delhi’s proposals like resumption of aviation talks and sporting relations were among the eight items to receive warm acceptance.

Khokhar said: “We have accepted the Indian proposal to hold the second round of talks on the issue of resumption of air links on the revised dates of December 1-2.”

India had suggested November 3 and 4 or November 10 and 11 for technical talks but Pakistan had sought dates in December. Khokhar said Islamabad has also proposed resumption of talks to revive rail links in the second half of December.

The other four proposals were not rejected, but either met with counter-offers or made part of what Pakistan calls composite dialogue, including Kashmir.

Among these, the clever move India had made by proposing a bus service between the two capitals of the two Kashmirs — Srinagar and Muzaffarabad — was matched with an equally smart ploy that is booby-trapped for Delhi.

In proposing the bus service, Delhi’s motive was to lead Pakistan into accepting the Line of Control as the international border, an act that would mean drawing the curtain down on the Kashmir controversy.

Islamabad replied with a welcome but suggested that UN officials should man the checkpoints and passengers should travel with UN documents. This India can never agree to because it would mean accepting a dispute over Kashmir and bringing in a third party.

The proposal created the desired effect in Delhi. Though the external affairs ministry did not react formally, in private officials were fuming.

“This is a deliberate attempt to provoke India and shows that Pakistan’s mindset has not changed. It indicates Pakistan’s unwillingness to carry forward the peace move initiated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” an official said.

Defence minister George Fernandes called the proposal “meaningless”.

Foreign ministry officials dubbed Islamabad’s counter-proposals “too clever by half”.

Some were more than a match for Delhi’s gestures. India had offered free medical treatment to 20 Pakistani children. Khokhar said: “We are also ready to provide such treatment to 40 Indian children in Pakistan.”

Former foreign secretary J.. Dixit described the exercise thus: “They (Pakistan) are playing the same game that we are playing, all this hype and noise are tactical ploys used by both countries to impress the international community. I can categorically predict that these proposals and counter-proposals will not take off because neither side is sincerely looking for solutions.”

Khokhar, however, acknowledged that the Indian proposals have created some “excitement” in world capitals. He said they figured in the talk between US secretary of state Colin Powell and foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri yesterday.

He hoped India would respond positively to Pakistan’s proposals. Observers expect the game of one-upmanship to continue.

There is certainly no scope for a “positive” Indian response to proposals Pakistan made with the intent of getting blood pressures up in Delhi.

Khokhar, who has been high commissioner in Delhi and was known as a hawk, announced an offer of free treatment and assistance to disabled people, widows and rape victims “affected by the various operations launched by security agencies” in Kashmir.

He said India should allow Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to select the victims.

“These references were unnecessary and shows that Islamabad is out to foil the peace initiative,” said an Indian official.

There was also an offer of scholarships to 100 Kashmiri students.

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