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Delhi delinks talks from terror

New Delhi, June 1: India would not stop talking to Pakistan even if cross-border terrorism continues, external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh said today, marking a major policy shift.

“I am not making stopping of cross-border terrorism a pre-condition for dialogue with Pakistan,” said the former diplomat who is reputed to be a hawk. “It is not stopping anywhere in the world,” he argued. Even in Iraq, while violence was going on, attempts were being made to find peace and solution to the crisis.

Reaffirming the Congress-led government’s commitment to peace with Pakistan, Singh said experts from the two sides would meet in Delhi between June 19 and 20 to discuss nuclear confidence-building measures.

After a week — on June 27 and 28 — a meeting between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan would follow in the capital. Security, peace and Kashmir would be discussed.

In his first press conference as external affairs minister, Singh tried to assure Pakistan, the US, China, the Islamic world and South Asia that the new government’s policy would only lead to strengthening of ties.

But the most interesting shift from the policy of the BJP-led government was visible on Pakistan. “We never said it was aar-paar ki ladai (fight to the finish) with Pakistan. We were outraged at the attack on our Parliament, but we were against snapping of ties. We were not in favour of snapping cricketing ties with Islamabad. We were against stopping flights, trains and bus services between the two countries,” Singh said, adding that people-to-people contact should never have stopped.

The fresh approach might give Pakistan confidence but it has raised quite a few eyebrows in diplomatic circles here. The question being asked is why should India give up its leverage over Islamabad, a neighbour that has, more often than not, pursued a hostile policy towards Delhi.

Besides, it is being argued, handing a “blank cheque” like this to Islamabad might allow it to argue that the violence in Kashmir was not sponsored by Pakistan but was an indigenous struggle led by Kashmiris.

Singh made it clear the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government would deal firmly with any attempt at infiltration across the Line of Control or the border. But it was against making “stopping of cross-border-terrorism” a condition for talks with Pakistan. “We would never stop our dialogue with Pakistan,” the minister stressed.

When A.B. Vajpayee took the peace bus to Lahore in 1999 and, two years later, when Pervez Musharraf was invited to the Agra Summit, cross-border terrorism had not stopped, Singh recalled. “That did not prevent India from talking to Pakistan.”

The NDA government’s Pakistan policy was filled with “booby-traps” and “high-tension wires”, he said. The UPA government, on the other hand, wants to deal with Pakistan on mutual trust instead of fear.

Aware that his reported remarks on Simla Agreement being the “bedrock” of India-Pakistan relations had created a controversy, Singh clarified that he did not mean that all other pacts signed by the two sides since should be ignored.

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