The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Advani and millions with Atal

New Delhi, Jan. 5: For the first time since Atal Bihari Vajpayee embarked on his peace mission to Islamabad, his deputy .K. Advani has indicated that he fully backs the Prime Minister’s efforts.

Millions of people are praying that the Prime Minister, who is now in Islamabad, is successful in his peace mission, Advani said while speaking at a function in Rashtrapati Bhavan where the Gandhi peace prize was presented to former President of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel.

Advani had in the past been publicly held responsible by the Pakistan establishment for wrecking the Agra summit.

In the run-up to the Islamabad Saarc summit, Advani had not said much in public about either Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan or the peace initiative by the Prime Minister.

However, this morning’s comment could be seen as the first public endorsement, however indirect, of Vajpayee’s visit.

The Prime Minister had consulted Advani at every step of the renewed peace process. Vajpayee had held a three-hour meeting with Advani before visiting Srinagar in April when the Prime Minister made his first peace overture to Pakistan.

Last week, before national security adviser Brajesh Mishra left for Islamabad, he called on Advani and held an hour-long discussion with the deputy Prime Minister. Vajpayee has made it a point to ensure that there is consensus in the top political leadership on the framework to be adopted for talks with Pakistan.

India has been carefully crafting a step-by-step normalisation process with Pakistan. Vajpayee and the Pakistan leadership are expected to set the broad framework for bilateral negotiations at a later date.

In the interlude, Advani will begin talks with the moderate Hurriyat group, led by Maulana Abbas Ansari. The Centre’s interlocutor for Kashmir, .. Vohra, met Advani today and reviewed the situation in Kashmir.

Vohra updated Advani on last week’s meeting of the coordination group set up by the Centre to lay the groundwork for talks.

Besides Vohra, the coordination group includes Union home secretary . Gopalaswami, cabinet secretary Kamal Pande and officer on special duty in the Prime minister’s office A.S. Dulat.

The government was keen on holding talks with the Hurriyat on December 27 but the group had sought more time as one of its leaders, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was hospitalised.

Hurriyat chairman Ansari attached significance to the Prime Minister’s meetings in Pakistan but said the key to peace lay in resolving the Kashmir dispute.

His predecessor, Abdul Gani Bhat, saw the developments as a “change in the situation towards a brighter future for Kashmir”.

Echoing Advani, the BJP said the meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf was a “positive step”.

“The talks between the Prime Minister and the Pakistan President in Islamabad today was a positive step in the right direction and we hope something concrete would emerge from it,” party president M. Venkaiah Naidu told reporters here. He said the party will come out with a formal proposal later.

Union communications minister Arun Shourie said it was a “sign of success that Pakistan was now following Vajpayee’s initiatives”.

“Pakistan, which had said all sorts of things about us at the international stage, is today following Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s initiatives. It is a sign of success,” Shourie said while addressing BJP workers in Goa.

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