The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Peace overture with Kashmir sting

New Delhi, Dec. 31: Rising above the nuclear rhetoric and playing the role of an elder statesman, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today called upon Pakistan to accept the “unchangeable reality” of a secular India and the fact that Jammu and Kashmir will remain an integral part of the country.

At the same time, he revived the chances of peace between the two neighbours, provided the Pakistani leadership accepted his suggestions — central to which is the notion that Islamabad should abandon its compulsive hostility towards India.

Vajpayee suggested that Pakistan put Kashmir on the backburner and closely cooperate with India to strengthen trade and economic ties and enhance people-to-people contact to improve their strained relations. He argued that once a “tension-free” and “cooperative” environment is created, the two sides can focus on Kashmir to find an “amicable and lasting” solution to the decades-old dispute.

“I often find it odd that whereas India reconciled itself long ago to the creation of Pakistan, the latter continues to find it difficult to accept the unchangeable reality of a united and secular India. Pakistan, even after five-and-a-half decades of failed pursuit, seems to be unready to face the truth that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and will always remain so,” Vajpayee said. The remarks are part of the Prime Minister’s musings from Goa, where he is on a New Year holiday.

The remarks about the reality of India and Pakistan’s existence are part of the argument he has been putting forward for the past few years.

In February 1999, when he took the peace bus to Lahore, Vajpayee had assured his hosts that Pakistan does not need the approval of India for its existence. He had made it clear that though Partition was a painful experience, Indians had reconciled themselves to Pakistan’s existence and it was about time the two neighbours lived in peace.

Vajpayee’s statement today is yet another attempt to extend the hand of friendship to Pakistan and urge it to improve bilateral ties through closer cooperation in trade and commerce, and people-to-people contact. In the Kumarakom musings in 2000, Vajpayee had urged Pervez Musharraf to give up his compulsive hostility towards India and take the “high road” for peace and economic prosperity of the people of the two South Asian nations.

His remarks this time come in the wake of Musharraf’s provocative insinuation that Islamabad’s threat to press the nuclear button had kept the Indian soldiers amassed at the border off Pakistani soil.

“Pakistan cannot fight religious extremism and modernise itself as long as it chooses to be in a position of permanent confrontation with India,” Vajpayee said, staying clear of the latest controversy generated by Musharraf’s remarks. But he made it clear that there was no dilution of India’s stated position on Kashmir.

The Prime Minister referred to the killings of innocents in Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan-sponsored militants, saying: “For the past several years, the rulers in Islamabad have, almost as a last resort, surrendered to the temptation of targeting India with terrorism, inspired by religious extremism.” But he pointed out that whether it was “holy religious war” or “freedom struggle”, this campaign of “jihadi terrorism” was doomed to fail.

Vajpayee argued that the enthusiastic participation of the people in the recent Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir was yet another expression of their “will and preference”. “I am convinced that someday, hopefully soon, the people of and rulers of Pakistan will realise the futile and counter-productive nature of its Kashmir policy,” he said.

Asking Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism and give up its insistence on the “centrality” of the Kashmir issue, Vajpayee said: “Let our two countries agree to promote mutually beneficial trade and economic ties, strengthen cultural relations and encourage greater people-to-people contacts. Once our two peoples experience the fruits of a tension-free and cooperative environment, we will be able to see the Kashmir issue in its proper dimension and arrive at an amicable and lasting solution.”

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