31 October 2003

India, Pak inch towards peace

31 October 2003
The Times of India

India, Pak inch towards peace

By Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: When the dust settles from the latest ‘peace blitz’, the biggest gainers may well be the 80 indigent children—40 each from India and Pakistan—who can look forward to free treatment across the border for ailments their own governments won’t pay for.

Six months on from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiative—and 56 six years after Partition—here’s how far we’ve come: the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said that there would be “immediate implementation’’ of proposals to allow senior citizens to cross the Wagah border by foot. In addition, India and Pakistan have finally agreed to play sports, talk about restoring air links and look into speedily releasing fishermen who stray into ‘enemy’ waters.

If that seems like inches, ordinary Indians and Pakistanis can take heart from the fact that the Samjhauta Express, the holding of visa camps and an increase in the Delhi-Lahore bus capacity are still on the table, subject to talks for air links—slated for December 1-2—concluding successfully.

On Thursday, the MEA came up with a measured reaction to Pakistan’s response to the original 12-point Indian proposal, made on October 22. The subdued tone suggests that the current round of one-upmanship between Islamabad and Delhi might at last be drawing down.

Hoping to set at rest a minor controversy stoked by media reports of remarks allegedly made by the external affairs minister, an MEA spokesman said that Yashwant Sinha had not described the 12-point peace plan as a “tactical ploy’’. “I have been instructed by the external affairs minister that such news reports, which attribute all these statements to him about tactical moves and win-win situations, are absolutely false and baseless,’’ the spokesman said. Going by reports of what transpired during a meeting Mr Sinha had with the BJP foreign affairs cell, Pakistan had said the remarks attributed to the minister were proof of India’s insincerity.

Welcoming the fact that “Pakistan has responded positively to at least some of (our) proposals’’, the MEA expressed disappointment “that they have attached impractical, extraneous or delaying conditions to the others’’. The latter was a reference to Islamabad wanting United Nations supervision of the proposed Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, though the MEA avoided mentioning the two-letter word in its statement.

India also criticised Pakistan for “holding up’’ the Mumbai-Karachi ferry and Sindh-Rajasthan railroad by linking them to the composite dialogue process when mere technical-level discussions would have sufficed.

The MEA spokesman chided Islamabad for offering 100 scholarships for Kashmiri students, saying “the process of building trust.. would be facilitated if offers are not targeted on any particular region of India’’. He said India had never adopted a selective approach for Balochistan, Sindh or the North-West Frontier Province.

The spokesman also said India was “amused at Pakistan’s profession of concern at the plight of disabled and negatively affected people in the state of Jammu and Kashmir’’. If Pakistan is sincere in wanting to help, he said, it should take immediate steps to end infiltration and offer compensation to those affected by terrorism.

Sporting and transport links were severed by India following the terrorist attack on Parliament in 2001.

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