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Pak push to flight of peace
- Musharraf gesture before civil aviation talks

Islamabad/New Delhi, Nov. 30: In a gesture of goodwill, Pakistan today offered India overflight rights that the two countries suspended after the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament and aired again a four-point formula to resolve all disputes.

“We are sincere in our efforts to promote a lasting peace in the region and the proposals which we have made so far for normalisation of relations reflect our flexibility,” President Pervez Musharraf told Pakistani and Indian members of the Young Presidents’ Organisation.

His offer to resume overflights came a day ahead of meetings between officials of the two countries in Delhi on restoration of air links.

Immediately after his announcement, foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said the two sides should quickly complete the technicalities of resuming full air links. “Even if it (delay) happens…. These are not going to affect the flight of the Prime Minister of India for the upcoming Saarc summit…. Under all circumstances, he has to come directly. Why should he come via Dubai'”

Without air links to Pakistan, any Indian visiting that country has to first fly to a West Asian destination to catch a connecting flight. Vajpayee would have had to do the same to go to Islamabad. “He will be received with full respect and protocol. He will come (to Islamabad) directly,” Kasuri said.

In Delhi, an external affairs ministry spokesperson said: “We welcome the announcement by President Musharraf that Pakistan will agree to overflights. We are looking forward to a successful outcome of the talks tomorrow and the day after.”

Once satisfied with the outcome of the talks, Delhi may announce another package of steps.

Musharraf proposed that the two countries resume dialogue and accept the centrality of the Kashmir dispute, an oft-repeated Pakistani demand.

“In the third step, both the countries should eliminate whatever is unacceptable to them and the people of Kashmir, and as a fourth step, they should go for a solution of the problem, acceptable to them as well as the Kashmiri people, who are also a party to the dispute,” he said.

There is nothing new in these proposals and he will be aware that his words “centrality” of the Kashmir dispute will raise some hackles in Delhi.

Musharraf said Pakistan’s approach has all along been flexible. “We bond peace with honour, dignity and sovereign equality,” he said while referring to recent peace proposals made by Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali which led to a complete ceasefire along the LoC after 14 years.

Guns stopped booming along the working border in volatile Kashmir and on the Siachen glacier in the wee hours of Wednesday after India agreed to Jamali’s proposal for an indefinite ceasefire.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had welcomed Pakistan’s proposal and described it as a good omen for improvement of relations.

The ceasefire came after the two countries exchanged a series of confidence building steps.

“We have to move step by step,” Musharraf said, adding that Islamabad is not harping on Kashmir alone when it calls for progress on all issues. He iterated the need for a composite dialogue and asked India to show flexibility on this.

Delhi has often declared that resumption of talks is not possible till an end to cross-border terrorism, a charge Islamabad denies. “India must show the desire to move forward and resolve issues in tandem,” he said.

Musharraf said the Pakistani delegation to the talks on restoring air links has gone with an open heart and mind.

The first round of talks, held in Rawalpindi on August 28-29, failed after Pakistan sought an assurance that overflight rights would not be unilaterally suspended in future.

After the Parliament attack, India cancelled the facility first.

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