The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Flights on runway, Delhi turns to train

New Delhi, Dec. 2: Encouraged by the “successful completion” of the civil aviation parleys, India today suggested technical-level talks on December 18 and 19 to resume the Samjhauta Express — the only rail link between India and Pakistan.

It was snapped, along with road and air links, in the wake of the terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001. The neighbours have agreed to resume direct flights from January 1.

But the real test of whether Delhi has softened towards Islamabad will come on Thursday when the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meets in Nigeria to decide whether Pakistan should be taken back. Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth Council in November 1999 after Pervez Musharraf came to power by overthrowing the elected government of Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan reacted positively to Delhi’s offer, with foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri telling an Indian TV channel over phone: “Yes we can. Actually we have been saying for a long time that we need to encourage people to people contact to create the right atmosphere so that at last Pakistan and India can start a meaningful and purposeful dialogue to resolve all disputes between them.”

Addressing his first news conference as foreign secretary this afternoon, Shashank added a rider to bilateral talks, saying the “composite dialogue”, which addresses the Kashmir dispute and other outstanding issues, would not begin before “technical-level” talks on all the proposals made by Delhi to normalise relations are completed.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will meet a number of leaders, including some from Pakistan, when he travels to Islamabad for the Saarc summit between January 4 and 6. “But at what level and how many have not yet been decided,” he added.

Apart from deciding to resume flights, the discussions between the civil aviation authorities, which ended here today, indicated that the two countries would soon lift restrictions on the type of passenger aircraft to be flown to each other’s cities and begin new routes.

Though Delhi suggested talks to re-start train services to take the peace process further, it refused to comment on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s proposal for troops pullout from both sides of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

“We don’t have to respond to every proposal made by Pakistan. But these are all important inputs which would be factored into our thinking,” Shashank said.

He argued that initially, Pakistan’s response to India’s proposals for normalising relations was not “adequate”, but of late, there has been a change in the attitude.

“We have to go though the whole process of technical-level talks which are going on. We hope that we will be able to make progress so that at a suitable stage, we will be able to reach the dialogue process also,” he said.

Sources in the foreign ministry said one of the reasons why India has not reacted to Musharraf’s latest proposal is because Delhi is not sure whether he was addressing India or his domestic audience. Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s offer for ceasefire had not come with any troops withdrawal rider.

At the last meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in September in New York, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha played a pro-active role in ensuring that Pakistan is kept out. This time India has left the decision to the Commonwealth technical committee and said it would be taken by consensus on the basis of the progress made by Pakistan to restore democracy.

Indications suggest India might not be a vocal critic of Pakistan at the forthcoming meeting in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on Thursday.

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