The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal touchdown to tango tune

Islamabad, Jan. 3: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has said that India “wants principled peace with Pakistan, based on the hopes and aspirations of the people”. He claimed that this was indeed realisable.

Earlier in the evening, Pakistan’s foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri had said that his country was in a “positive frame of mind” for a dialogue with India. “But it takes two to tango,” he had quipped. Now Prime Minister Vajpayee has indicated that India is a willing to tango for peace.

“It is in the interest of the two countries to live together in a cooperative manner. This will not only benefit us but also the region and the world,” Vajpayee said in an interview to Pakistan Television recorded earlier this morning.

Barely had the Indian Prime Minister settled down in Islamabad’s newest and swankiest five-star hotel, Serena, than his interview was telecast, changing the public mood in the Pakistani capital.

“We want friendship. We have to live together. We have to choose whether we want to live in peace or in disharmony,” Vajpayee said, setting the mood for his visit to Islamabad.

Vajpayee said that India could do business with Musharraf and paid him a compliment describing him as “the biggest leader of Pakistan today”.

Displaying unusual optimism, Vajpayee said: “I think we can talk to General Musharraf. I am also hopeful that these talks will lead to a solution.” He took in his stride the compliment of Musharraf that he was a man of peace saying: “If he says that, he is not wrong. I believe in peace and have tried to work towards peace.”

Vajpayee said India had never hesitated in discussing the Kashmir issue with Pakistan. He, however, argued that “time is needed to move forward” as the issue had not been discussed in a “sustained manner (jum kar baat nahin hui).”

Could the relationship between India and Pakistan undergo the same kind of sweeping changes as the Sino-Indian relations, Vajpayee was asked. “We desire a change. But when this desire will be realised one cannot say,” he replied.

Condemning the communal carnage witnessed in Gujarat in February 2002, Vajpayee said: “What happened in Gujarat was very bad.… It was a wrong step.”

The Prime Minister said that Pakistan-bashing was not an issue in the Assembly elections held recently and it would not be allowed to become one in future elections.

Earlier, while leaving New Delhi for Pakistan, in his departure statement, Vajpayee seemed to draw a distinction between holding bilateral talks with Saarc leaders and the “interaction" he will hold with the host country, Pakistan.

“While in Islamabad, I will take the opportunity of bilateral meetings with other Saarc leaders, besides interacting with our hosts. I hope all discussions, bilateral and regional, would proceed in the spirit of friendship, co-operation and good neighbourliness,” he said.

The Pakistani leadership is already trying to shape the contours of the “interaction”, if it takes place. Foreign minister Kasuri suggested in his press briefing that some of the Indian formulations on the outstanding issues between the two countries seemed to be changing. He argued that the progress made in Agra should not be jettisoned and a dialogue should be held “without any preconditions”.

Kasuri said that in the wake of 9/11, some Indian formulations were changing. But at Agra, the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers had drawn up a “draft” and Vajpayee had now even admitted that publicly.

He, therefore, argued: “It is better to stick to formulations generated from an internal dynamic rather than those that owe their origin to developments outside.”

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