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Atal eyes Pakistan doves

New Delhi, Nov. 1: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today told commanders of the armed forces that India’s proposals to Pakistan were designed to cultivate a peace constituency that wanted an end to antagonistic ties.

Vajpayee said the measures aimed at promoting “greater people-to-people interaction, cultural exchanges and economic cooperation” were part of a “constant effort... to encourage those elements in Pakistan who recognise the folly of permanent hostility towards India”.

The Prime Minister set the parameters of the current moves to engage Pakistan. India’s policy, by extension of the rationale behind the measures, is not so much to engage the Pakistani leadership for the time being. Vajpayee re-stated the position that any meaningful dialogue with Pakistan “is only possible when we see sincerity in their efforts to stop cross-border infiltration and to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism”.

On relations with China, Vajpayee told the combined commanders’ conference of the three armed forces that the border has remained largely peaceful for the last few decades. He said it was significant that both India and China had raised the talks to the political level by appointing special representatives. This comes alongside steps for bilateral and economic cooperation.

“A final resolution of the boundary question would release considerable military energies and finances for other more purposeful activities. It is, therefore, a strategic objective and, to achieve it, we should be willing to take some pragmatic decisions,” Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister did not deal with the issue of the US request to India to consider sending troops to Iraq. (But, speaking on the war in Iraq, defence minister George Fernandes said: “India is cognizant of the current plight of the people of Iraq and at the appropriate time we shall discharge whatever responsibility devolves upon us.”) The Prime Minister noted that strategic considerations have changed since the Cold War era and from the time that cooperation between India and Russia hinged on a strong USSR.

The war in Iraq had opened up new post-Cold War divisions. United Nations structures have not been able to deal with animosities and a “new acrimony” developed among the five most powerful nations.

“The recent national discussions on events in Iraq showed that many in our country are still caught up in the time warp of a Cold War mindset and strategic assumptions of an earlier era,” Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister expressed concern over the Maoist movement in Nepal. The Nepalese rebels, he said, can be worrisome because of their links with ultra-Left groups in India. “We need to devise innovative security measures to curb the mobility of Maoists and other insurgent groups across the India-Nepal border without inhibiting the people-to-people and commercial traffic between the two countries.”

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