The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Joint forum for Indo-Pak MPs

New Delhi, July 24: An India-Pakistan parliament' This would appear to be an impossibly romantic estimate of what Track II diplomacy can possibly achieve, but it will actually take place next month thanks to the initiative of the Pakistan-based South Asia Free Media Forum.

As a result of the forum’s efforts, nearly 70 MPs from the two countries will gather in Islamabad on August 10 and 11 to discuss confidence-building and conflict resolution.

The participants will represent the various hues of the Indian political spectrum, ranging from saffron and green to the Left’s red.

The shortlist contains the names of Laloo Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Margaret Alva, Balbir Punj, S.S. Ahluwalia and Abani Roy.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has virtually been coopted in the ruling dispensation as an “extra-constitutional authority”, will also be represented, though it is not known in what capacity.

The conference will also have editors and strategic experts attending. But organisers stress that the parliamentarians will be providing most of the resources and the content, with the others playing subsidiary roles.

The RSS will be sending former spokesman M.G. Vaidya, and senior functionaries Suresh Soni and K.P. Aggarwal.

There were some notables like the CPI’s Shamin Faizi and former Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani who could not be accommodated as they are neither parliamentarians, editors or strategic experts.

Sources said the main purpose of the conference was to “meet, talk and understand each other’s point of view. It is cross-border understanding,” they added.

The sources said the discussions would be free-wheeling and depending on the “sense of the House”, a formulation could be made. “There could also be a new formula on Kashmir,” they said.

It was clarified that there would be no attempt to score brownie points. “Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took an initiative which was reciprocated by the Pakistan Prime Minister,” the sources said. They added that the conference — the first of its kind — would strengthen the peace process.

The media forum has hosted joint conferences earlier, but these were only for journalists. Its new endeavour is a sequel of sorts to a June visit by Pakistani parliamentarians. The Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam chief, Fazl-ur Rehman, also visited India earlier this week with three colleagues.

However, the organisers point out that their project has nothing to do with the recent visits. “There will be many more people from both sides and it will capture the mood of the sub-continent,” they said.

Other MPs expected to participate include Laloo Prasad’s trusted aide and Rajya Sabha MP, Prem Gupta, Paswan’s brother Ramchander and Swaraj Kaushal, husband of Union health and parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and a Rajya Sabha MP belonging to the Haryana Vikas Party

The Congress will be represented by Shyama Charan Shukla and Rahman Khan, besides Aiyar and Alva. Virendra Pal Singh and Anadi Sahu will the BJP’s representatives.

Naval Kishore Rai of the Janata Dal (United), the Forward Bloc’s Devrajan and the Telugu Desam’s K.E. Krishnamurthi and Durga Vijaya Kumari are some of the other MPs who will be attending the conference.

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