The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Khan kickoff with call to boost staff

New Delhi, July 10: With Aziz Ahmed Khan presenting his credentials to A.P.J. Abdul Kalam today, a crucial step has been taken towards restoring Indo-Pak ties to the pre-December 2001 level.

The attack on Parliament in December 2001 pushed the neighbours to the brink of war and led to the tit-for-tat expulsions of high commissioners Vijay Nambiar and Aslam Jehangir Qazi. The strength of the two missions was reduced by half and air links snapped.

Tension continued till April when Atal Bihari Vajpayee made a peace overture. The Prime Minister later said full diplomatic ties between the countries would be restored.

With Khan presenting his credentials at noon today and Indian high commissioner-designate to Pakistan, Shiv Shankar Menon, arriving in Islamabad on Tuesday, relations seem to be back on an even keel.

After the half-an-hour-long ceremony, Khan said he hoped the two missions would restore staff strength to previous levels.

With news trickling in that a Saarc summit in Islamabad seems set for January, Khan was asked for his comments. “This is a positive development and augurs well for the entire South Asian region. We hope there will be forward movement between India and Pakistan in other areas too,” he said.

“Pakistan is prepared to hold talks with India at any place, any level and at any time,” Khan said, echoing President Pervez Musharraf’s response to the Indian Prime Minister’s offer of better relations. “As far as Pakistan is concerned, it has been frequently repeated that we are ready for a meaningful, composite dialogue which tackles all issues,” he added.

Khan said Pakistan wanted to expedite peace but was ready to go with the “step by step” approach being followed by India which learnt a bitter lesson in Lahore and Agra.

Hopes that Vajpayee’s offer of extending a hand of friendship would lead promptly to better ties have tapered out.

Khan said “faster action can be taken in certain areas” but did not elaborate. Asked why Pakistan was delaying restoration of air links, he said: “Air links and overflights are not the same thing.”

Pakistan was willing to restore flights immediately, Khan said, but wanted more discussions on overflights and the use of airspace.

Islamabad wants “assurances” before restoring commercial flights. A diplomat said India had stopped overflights after the 1971 Bangladesh war and the Parliament attack and added that Pakistan did not want a repeat. “We want some assurance that this does not occur again,” the diplomat said.

Failure to provide such an assurance has delayed restoration of air links.

An assurance would ensure links are not snapped in future says Pakistan, but foreign minister Yashwant Sinha says it would be wrong to seek such a guarantee from India.

Khan did not state his opinion explicitly, instead saying Pakistan did not want airlines in the two countries to suffer losses. “You are hurt more than us, because you have many more overflights,” he said.

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