The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A signal to the world, a test for Pak

New Delhi, April 18: Chances of resuming talks with Pakistan today appeared to have brightened with the Prime Minister saying Delhi was willing to resolve “internal and external” issues through peaceful negotiations.

But Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s latest offer came with the standard proviso: talks could resume only after Delhi is convinced that terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir or elsewhere in the country have come down.

Technically, India has never been against talks but it has all along insisted this pre-condition has to be met. He repeated the term today but the tenor and spirit of his remarks were different.

The fact that the subcontinent is back on America’s radar after the Iraq war could also have influenced the Prime Minister to make a statesman-like gesture during the rare tour that the international community is sure to be watching with keen interest.

His comments have to be viewed against the backdrop of recent developments and the response of the US, Russia and France — the three key allies of India — to the situation in South Asia.

Vajpayee’s conditional offer to resume dialogue with Pakistan comes in the wake of renewed high-level talks between India and the US.

On Thursday night, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha spoke with US secretary of state Colin Powell over phone during which the South Asian situation and Pakistan-sponsored terror figured prominently.

Yesterday, a US Congress delegation and ambassador to India Robert Blackwill met deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and other officials. They discussed the ground situation in Kashmir after the Nadimarg killings and the steps being contemplated by Delhi to deal with the situation.

Though it has not been stated in so many words, a recurring fear in Washington has been the frequent exchanges of rhetoric between Delhi and Islamabad. The Bush administration is worried that such rhetoric may spark an armed conflict between the neighbours.

US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage is due to arrive in the subcontinent early next month to hold talks with the Indian and Pakistani leadership.

During Armitage’s visit last summer, he had raised expectations by conveying Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s assurance to “completely” stop infiltration. There has been no significant change on the ground yet, but Armitage will make yet another attempt to bridge the gap between the neighbours.

France and Russia have also indicated that they back India’s fight against cross-border terror, but they are also keen to bring the temperature down in South Asia.

Through his comments today, Vajpayee has also set up a “summer test” for Pakistan. If the summer — the peak season of infiltration-induced militancy — passes off without major militant strikes, it will offer Delhi a window to claim that Islamabad has met a key condition and help the Vajpayee government to prepare the domestic ground for talks.

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