The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Envoy leaves with peace on lips

New Delhi, July 15: India’s high commissioner-designate to Pakistan today left for Islamabad hoping to create the “proper atmosphere” to usher in peace.

“I would like to get to Pakistan. The general thrust is to build peaceful, friendly and cooperative relations,” Shiv Shankar Menon said.

“Much more was needed to be done,” he said, while accepting that ties between the neighbours had already improved.

Delhi’s acceptance of Pakistan’s proposed dates for the Saarc summit in Islamabad, scheduled for early January, has fuelled hopes of resumption of bilateral dialogue at the highest level. Diplomatic circles believe this is likely if Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee attends the summit.

Foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, however, had recently said in Kathmandu that Delhi expected substantial movement on trade and terrorism before the Saarc summit takes off.

Menon today echoed Sibal. “Terrorism is an issue. Everybody knows our views. (The) Prime Minister has said this is an issue that needs to be addressed effectively. Because if we want the dialogue process to continue, we also need to make the effort to build a proper atmosphere.”

Menon is likely to present his credentials in the next few days. His Pakistani counterpart in Delhi, Aziz Ahmed Khan, has already presented his.

Whatever the finer details, India has already committed itself to continuing to normalise relations, step by step. For instance, both countries have resumed the Delhi-Lahore bus service and business and parliamentary teams have exchanged visits.

Now, the expectation revolves around an early resumption of civil aviation links.

As both the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers have agreed to urgently strengthen people-to-people contact, resumption of aviation links is being seen as another step in that direction, now that the bus service has been revived.

But Pakistan appears to be in no hurry to do so. Renewed aviation links would involve both landing rights and overflights. While Islamabad is not averse to granting landing rights, it has so far been insisting on treating overflights separately.

Menon said both governments would have to discuss and agree on air and rail link restoration. “Obviously, there is public interest and demand” in resuming these services, he said.

More than Pakistan, India tends to lose from lack of overflight rights. Unlike Pakistan, most Indian international flights have to use the neighbour’s airspace. The inability to do so for the past 18 months has been a heavy loss to Delhi.

Pakistan is scheduled to send a technical team to Delhi to start aviation-link talks. But the country has indicated it wants an assurance from India not to unilaterally snap civil aviation links in future.

Menon, however, said: “My first effort would be to try and build friendly, cooperative and constructive relations with Pakistan.”

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