Srinagar, April 19: Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today again extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan, saying he was willing to begin talks within 24 hours provided Islamabad stopped sending in armed infiltrators and dismantled terrorist camps.
Having been misunderstood in some quarters yesterday, Vajpayee clarified his position on Pakistan at a news conference before leaving for New Delhi.
“I have extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan but Pakistan has to also do its bit. Even after Lahore and Kargil I am willing to be friends, so long as cross-border terrorism stops, armed infiltrators are not sent out across the border and their camps are destroyed,” he said.
Despite the Prime Minister’s entourage repeatedly saying yesterday there was no shift in India’s position, Vajpayee again gave the signal that he had not given up on peace and was willing to give it another try.
At the same time, he threw the ball into Pakistan’s court, saying that the failures at Lahore and Agra would not deter him provided there was reciprocity. “India wants to go ahead on the path of friendship and peace. They (Pakistan) have welcomed my speech, now I am waiting for their reply.…
“A new beginning depends on Pakistan, I am waiting to see how they respond,” he said.
Vajpayee seemed in the mood to make a fresh attempt at defusing border tension. “India and Pakistan can talk on all issues, including Kashmir. It may take long, 50 years have already passed, and it is time to break the deadlock. Only talks can solve the problem.”
Vajpayee said the global situation had changed and what happened in Iraq was a warning to all countries to resolve disputes across the table. “How long can India and Pakistan continue this deadlock'” he asked.
He said the moment he saw a change in Pakistan’s attitude, he would send a senior foreign ministry official within 24 hours to Islamabad to chalk out an agenda for talks.
He said he did not want to keep talking of what happened in the past. Recrimination was not the answer, the need was to go forward. “This is why I did not talk of the massacre of Pundits yesterday. It is not that I don’t feel for them. But we have to look to the future. This is why I did not also dwell on Kargil and Agra yesterday… I want a new beginning.”
He also took a dig at local newspapers, which dubbed his speech yesterday as the vision of a poet and dreamer. “I am a dreamer, yes. But I also see that my dreams turn to reality.”
In a short statement before the news conference, he said: “I am not a dream merchant. My feet are firmly on the ground.’’