The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fernandes rules out Pak talks

Calcutta, April 12: Defence minister George Fernandes today ruled out any bilateral talks with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue in the wake of fresh US pressure on India to resolve the problem through discussions.

“There is no question of holding any discussion with Pakistan on Kashmir. Let Pakistan first stop cross-border terrorism and sending infiltrators into our territory. We can think about initiating a dialogue only when there is sufficient improvement in the situation,” he told reporters after the annual general meeting of the Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce this morning.

Referring to the formation of a global coalition to fight terrorism after the attack on the World Trade Center, Fernandes said: “The coalition was formed to fight terrorism all over the world. We all know that Pakistan has been in the forefront of terrorist activities. It has been regularly sending terrorists across the border and they have been killing innocent people.

“Our country and people are fully aware of the danger posed by cross-border terrorism. We fail to understand how Pakistan can be a partner in the global coalition against terrorism when the country is actively helping terrorists.”

Asked if George Bush appeared soft on Pakistan with regard to its role in the Iraq war, the defence minister said it was for the US President to give priority to a country of his preference. “We are prepared to defend our frontiers against any external attack,” he asserted.

Fernandes, however, ruled out any deterioration in bilateral relations between India and the US following adoption of an all-party resolution by Parliament “condemning” the war.

“Our diplomatic relations with the US will not be affected by the Parliament resolution. Our bilateral ties do not concern only the battle against terrorism. The two countries have military, economic and social relationships, too,” he said.

Earlier, addressing the meeting, Fernandes said India was concerned over the chaotic situation in Iraq and intended to send humanitarian help to the war-ravaged country as early as possible.

“It is difficult for us to predict when the war in Iraq will come to an end. The war did not really start in March, but much earlier. It started in 1991 when attempts to subjugate Iraq did not quite succeed. Iraq was thereafter subjected to UN sanctions, which affected supplies of food and medicines to the Iraqi people and made them suffer,” he said.

Turning his attention to the Northeast, the defence minister said: “No development will be possible in some of the north-eastern states until and unless the problems of terrorism and separatism are effectively dealt with. Central funds, meant for these states, sometimes find their way into the terrorists’ hands.”

Fernandes added that these states’ economy could be improved by boosting tourism.

The minister stressed on improving work culture to ensure development. “We often find government employees enjoying almost a week-long holiday in the middle of a month. This will not help much. In China, people enjoy only 10 per cent of the number of holidays we have,” he said.

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