The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sweeteners on eve of summit

New Delhi, Dec. 31: India today announced a fresh set of measures, including technical-level talks for the proposed bus service between the two Kashmirs, to keep up the momentum of the peace process with Pakistan.

The world also sent a message that it is keeping a close watch on the subcontinent with the US, Britain and France wishing foreign minister Yashwant Sinha luck on the eve of his departure for Islamabad. Sinha is due to leave for Islamabad tomorrow to participate in the Saarc foreign ministers’ talks between January 2 and 3.

Sinha’s British counterpart, Jack Straw, and French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin called him up to discuss bilateral and regional issues and to wish him luck for his visit. In the evening, US secretary of state Colin Powell, who just returned to work after a 15-day break for a surgery, too, spoke to Sinha.

On the eve of Diwali, India had proposed starting the bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and restoring the rail link between Khokrapar in Rajasthan and Munabao in Sindh. It now wants the technical-level talks for the rail link to start from January 12 and that for the bus service from January 19.

India also proposed lifting restrictions, on a reciprocal basis, on the movement of Pakistan high commission personnel. India had confined the movement of Pakistan high commission staffers to the Delhi administration area in the wake of the attack on Parliament.

Foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said India has proposed raising the staff strength in the respective high commissions in Delhi and Islamabad from 55 to 75.

Before the attack on Parliament, India and Pakistan had 110 members in their high commissions. However, as part of the stringent measures unveiled against Pakistan, India had unilaterally announced reduction of high commission staff strength by 50 per cent and, within a few days, expelled high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.

Sarna said today’s proposals were made “in continuation of the step-by-step process of normalisation of links and promotion of people-to-people contacts”.

The package indicates that Delhi is giving a careful nudge to the peace initiative to assure the international community that it was making an effort to normalise relations with Pakistan.

At the same time, Delhi refused to give a clear indication whether a meeting will take place between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf or his Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali on the sidelines of the Saarc summit in Islamabad.

The comments of both the British and the French foreign ministers during their telephone conversation with Sinha indicated that the level of expectation of resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan was high among the world leaders.

Both Straw and Villepin expressed their appreciation of the Prime Minister’s peace initiative with Pakistan and lauded India's commitment to “carry forward” this process.

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