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Atal sets up date with Jamali
- Finger off trigger, India offers Pak hand

New Delhi, Nov. 27: From the Diwali dozen followed by the Id ceasefire gift, a New Year tete-a-tete may look like natural progression, but it has taken two-and-a-half years for India and Pakistan to travel the distance from Agra to Islamabad.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee held out the hope of renewal of high-level contact that broke down in July 2001 as he expressed readiness to meet Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali during the Saarc summit in the Pakistan capital from January 4 to 6.

“I will be happy if Jamali meets me,” Vajpayee said in Lucknow today.

The Pakistan Prime Minister is expected to be more than happy as Islamabad has been eager to reopen talks.

India’s stand so far has been that, though it did not oppose dialogue, Pakistan would first have to create the condition for it by stopping infiltration and rejecting its policy of violence against Delhi.

Vajpayee today sought to pre-empt any suggestion of a change in India’s position. “There is no difference between one-to-one meeting or meeting collectively,” he said.

“My programme of going to Pakistan is being prepared and I will meet everyone there,” Vajpayee said and then went on to clear the ambiguity of the statement by mentioning Jamali.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, usually vocal against the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, today held his tongue. Asked for his reaction to a possible ISI role in the ethnic violence in Assam, he said: “I don’t want to comment on it.”

Vajpayee set the ball rolling for normalisation with his dozen confidence-building proposals on Diwali and then, on the eve of Id on Tuesday, the two countries decided to observe ceasefire on the LoC, the border and Siachen.

The ceasefire is holding. At Odusaa, in the Uri sector, villagers shell-shocked by the frequent pounding that had become a part of their lives were breathing freely again. Mohammad Nazir, a 50-year-old villager who lost a leg in the shelling this year, told Reuters: “There is a chance our children can live in peace.”

Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, cautious about summit-level talks, was still optimistic about a general improvement in the atmosphere.

“I believe that this time it (ceasefire) may be lasting,” he said. “If the trend of present developments continues and if the transformation in their (Pakistan’s) thinking moves in the right direction, then an atmosphere for talks can be created.”

A meeting between Vajpayee and Jamali could set the pace for structured talks to begin.

“Something good has happened after a long time,” said Ratan Lal, a soldier, at Odusaa.

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