April 2003 News

PM Offers Pakistan Friendship

18 April 2003
The Asian Age

Srinagar: Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Friday renewed the talks offer made to Kashmiri separatists to resolve the issues India faces in the Himalayan state amicably. Talks will be held within the ambit of 'insaniyat (humanity)' and the outcome will be just, Mr Vajpayee said. The Prime Minister also extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan but said the decision to live in peace like brothers and friends ought to be taken by both sides. India and Pakistan, he said, had many things in common, the most important being their cherished shared history and culture. He said they must make up their minds to live in peace and harmony as that would enable the two countries to utilise their vast resources for the benefit of there peoples. 'We may change the course of history and the map of the entire region, the whole world is looking towards us,' he said. The Prime Minister was willing to hold a dialogue with 'our own people' as well as 'outsiders,' an obvious reference to Pakistan. But he said the process may take some time. Mr Vajpayee's pledge to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, however, was: peace will return, truth will prevail, prosperity will move closer. 'Aap ki takdir badal jayegi (Your destiny will change),' he said. The Prime Minister, on a two- day visit to the state, told an impressive and responsive public rally, the first a Prime Minister has addressed in Srinagar in the past 15 years, that all problems could be resolved through negotiations. 'We're ready to talk to the people at home and to outsiders as well,' he reiterated, adding it might take some time before the process could be taken to its logical conclusion. What he was sure about right now was that the outcome would be based on justice. Mr Vajpayee spoke about Kargil taking place even after he had embarked on a journey to Lahore to offer an olive branch to the Pakistani leadership. Islamabad failed to reciprocate. 'Yet I don't want to hold a debate on who started the Kargil war. But, regardless of what happened there, we invited Pakistani General Sahib (Pervez Musharraf) to Agra hoping that while sitting on the perimeter of the Taj we shall think and talk peace and love,' he said. The rest was history. But ready to forget the past, the Prime Minister wanted to convey to both Islamabad and to his own people in Kashmir that the 'dance of death' must stop. 'Abhi tak maut aur khoon ka jo khel ho raha hai, woh bandh hona chahiye,' he said. Without drawing a parallel between Kashmir and Iraq, Mr Vajpayee said though he was happy to note that the fighting had stopped there, he firmly believed that the American-led war on that country was unwarranted and could have been avoided. 'What is the outcome - bloodshed and destruction. We wanted that there should be no war. We are happy it is over,' he said. Likewise, no one could benefit from conflict in our part of the world and it was in this context that the Centre has sought an amicable solution to the problems in Kashmir. It was at this point that a sanguine and cheerful Prime Minister said Jammu and Kashmir was heading towards peace and prosperity and all impediments in the way would be removed. 'Peace will return, truth will prevail, prosperity will move closer,' he promised, reiterating that the gun does not provide the answer to the problem. He said that those wielding the gun must realise that world opinion has turned against the cult of violence. 'A gun can kill a person but can't fill his belly,' he said. He expected the people of Kashmir, particularly the youth, to come forward and rebuild their state, which he said had suffered enormously all these years. Reciting a Kashmiri couplet by revolutionary poet Gulam Ahmed Mahjoor, Mr Vajpayee expressed optimism about paradise on earth blooming to become a place where nightingales will sing once again. Referring to his promise of holding free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir made from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, 2002, the Prime Minister said, 'Some friends rushed to me wondering what I had said. They thought it was impossible to hold free and fair elections in Kashmir, but we proved them wrong.' Reference to the hardships of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the Prime Minister assured chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed that Delhi would back the state's development agenda. 'I have laid the foundation stone for the expansion of Srinagar airport. Soon international flights will be able to take off and land there,' he said. Amidst cheers he promised the audience his government would do everything possible to generate employment in Kashmir. 'Sher Shah Suri had centuries ago built the Grand Trunk between Afghanistan and Kolkata. We've started construction of roads from the north to the south and this would help generate employment. We have lowered the prices of cement and other construction material. Ghat banenge. Bekari door hogi,' he said. The Prime Minister was quite happy to note that information technology has provided a window of opportunity to India's youth. 'Developed countries are looking at the rich human resources of our country. Their own youth are vanishing and the number of old people growing; hence more and more of our youth are getting jobs abroad,' he said. Hoping that Kashmir would regain its glory in the years to come, Mr Vajpayee said: 'What is important is that Kashmiriyat should remain intact.' He said that while sitting in Delhi he felt concerned about Kashmir and vowed to bridge the distance. 'We want to come closer,' he said.


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