| A sign being put up at Wagah railway station. (AP)
New Delhi, May 26: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee leaves on his Europe tour tomorrow armed with another peace initiative towards Pakistan, but he is not carrying in his baggage a gift-wrapped commitment for President George W. Bush to send Indian troops to Iraq.
India today announced resumption of the Delhi-Lahore bus service that was stopped after the attack on Parliament in December 2001 and release of 70 Pakistani fishermen and 60 civilians in Indian custody.
Vajpayee will visit Germany, Russia and France over the next seven days. At Evian in France and at St Petersburg, there will be opportunities for meeting Bush.
The Prime Minister overruled objections to further gestures towards Pakistan at today’s meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), but a decision on whether or not to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq was kept pending.
By despatching forces, India is afraid of being seen in the Arab world — as well as within the country — as doing the bidding of the US. But it does not want to rub Washington the wrong way by saying no. It was, however, decided that B.B. Tyagi, the ambassador to Iraq, will return to Baghdad immediately.
Worries had begun to be voiced in some quarters that the peace process with Pakistan had slowed but with today’s twin steps, Delhi has dispelled those concerns. As he meets world leaders on his trip, Vajpayee will be on the front foot, particularly as a meeting scheduled today for Pakistan to decide on granting the most-favoured nation status — a facility routinely given to trading partners — to India was postponed for unknown reasons.
India is also awaiting a response on resuming air services and restoration of overflight rights. Sources said that for the time being the Delhi-Lahore bus service will operate twice a week, an announcement greeted by Pakistan as a “positive” gesture.
At the CCS meeting, there was a contrary opinion that Delhi should sit tight until Pakistan announced some reciprocal steps, but Vajpayee argued for strengthening people-to-people contacts, which would normalise relations without jeopardising India’s interests.
For his meetings abroad, Vajpayee goes equipped to highlight the measures India has taken and is, therefore, in a stronger position to press his case for Pakistan to stop infiltration.
The Prime Minister is obviously not so surefooted while dealing with the Iraq question, though the UN has passed a resolution seeking contributions from member-states for the “stability and security” of that country. Which is why he has just bought time.
“The situation on the ground in Iraq is a matter of concern,” foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said. But he hurriedly added: “We are not foreclosing or pre-judging anything.”
Officials said that, given the lawlessness in Iraq, Indian troops might have to perform the role of law enforcers. Such a responsibility comes with the risk of becoming unpopular within Iraq and in the entire Arab world.