October 2003 News

India proposes Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service

22 October 2003
The Daily Excelsior
Daily Excelsior Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Pushing ahead with the peace initiative with Pakistan, India today proposed 12 Confidence Building Measures including full resumption of cricketing and other sporting links and launching of a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in PoK but made it clear that there will be no let up in the fight against cross-border terrorism. New Delhi offered a second round of talks to restore air links and overflights, technical-level discussions for resumption of Samjhauta Express rail service and increasing the capacity of Delhi- Lahore bus service. These decisions taken at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security presided over by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee this morning were conveyed to Pakistan High Commissioner here Aziz Ahmed Khan by Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal shortly thereafter. 'We will expect Pakistan to respond positively,' External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha told a crowded press conference while announcing the measures, which, he said, were in continuation of Vajpayee’s April 18 peace initiative. Replying to questions on the offer for restoration of cricketing and other sporting links, Sinha said India was ready to resume playing hockey, polo, kho-kho and other sports with Pakistan. 'The demand of Board for Control of Cricket in India has been fulfilled. It can now independently talk to its Pakistani counterpart,' he said referring to the long-pending plea of cricket lovers in the two countries for resumption of Indo-Pak matches. India also proposed setting up of links between the coast guards of the two countries on the pattern of Directors General of Military Operations (DGMO), non-arrest of fishermen within certain specified areas in the Arabian sea, holding of visa-giving camps and allowing senior citizens above the age of 65 years to cross Wagah border check point in Punjab by foot. New Delhi also suggested ferry service between Mumbai and Karachi, bus or rail link between Khokrapur in Rajasthan and Munnabao in Sindh besides the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus connection and free medical treatment for another 20 ailing Pakistani children in India and mutual increase in staff strength of the two High Commissions. He, however, asserted that 'there will be no let up in the fight against cross-border terrorism' which has so far shown no decline. Asked if Vajpayee would hold bilateral talks during the January SAARC summit in Islamabad, Sinha said 'no meaningful, productive and sustained dialogue can take place if Pakistan carried on with cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy'. The minister made a distinction between the multilateral forum of seven-nation SAARC and bilateralism, saying that Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf were present in New York, Kuala Lumpur and Almaty for international conferences but did not hold bilateral parleys. 'There is no question of summit level dialogue to start with,' he said, adding 'it is a multilateral (SAARC) process for which he (Vajpayee) will go to Pakistan'. Observing that he was not aware of anything happening behind the scenes, the minister said 'India is very serious with the peace process with Pakistan...We will work overtime to make this succeed'. Elaborating on the proposed measures, Sinha said New Delhi was willing to have a second round of technical level discussions for resumption of civil aviation links. The first round had failed to yield any positive outcome with Pakistan seeking guarantees from India on overflight facilities. He said the Director General of Civil Aviation would get in touch with his Pakistani counterpart to fix dates for this meeting. 'India is keen (on these measures) though it is not (to be construed as) a sign of weakness,' the minister said adding these proposals were for restoration of civil aviation services alongwith overflight facilities. 'There is no question of India giving any guarantees to Pakistan' in this regard, he said. Sinha said discussions at the technical level on resumption of rail service would be undertaken after 'successful completion' of civil aviation parleys. He said for the benefit of the two peoples, India has offered holding of visa camps by the respective High Commission in different cities. These, he said, could be worked out through diplomatic channels. On the establishment of links between the two coast guards, he said New Delhi has offered to hold flag meetings at sea before and after onset of the fishing season. Details in this regard could be finalised through talks with Pakistan maritime security agency, he said. Asked if the offer for starting a Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service could affect Indian claim over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Sinha said 'this does not in any way affect our claim'. On the issue of free medical treatment in India for ailing Pakistan kids, Sinha said following the successful heart operation of Baby Noor, 16 children had undergone medical treatment in this country. Since the Indian mission in Islamabad had received a large number of applications, Government decided to offer treatment at its cost to a batch of another 20 Pakistan children, he said. On India’s earlier proposal for raising the staff strength at the respective missions by eight, he said Pakistan has accepted it. After seeing the response of Pakistan on the fresh proposals, New Delhi would be ready to look at further increasing the number of personnel, he said. As a result of these measures, India is hoping that Pakistan will be persuaded to give up the path of confrontation, violence and cross-border terrorism and come to the negotiating table in a spirit of sustaining the dialogue process, he said. On the issue of hawkish statements being made by the two countries against each other, the minister said the 1972 Simla agreement talks about leaders desisting from making such statements. Asked why the measures were announced at this juncture and how the situation had changed on the ground, Sinha said 'we have moved step by step since April 18 (offer of hand of friendship by Vajpayee). 'We felt that the stage has reached where we could announce a number of steps,' he said, adding there was no radical departure from the Government’s policy. On the issue of infiltration, he said there was no evidence of any decrease in it nor any proof of attempts being made by Pakistan to stop it. 'Our fight against cross- border terrorism will continue as before'. Sinha said broadly these steps towards normalisation of Indo-Pak relations were in the direction of going back to the position prevailing before the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament. On Pakistan denying the presence of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim in that country after he was declared a global terrorist by the US, he said 'good will prevail over the evil'. India has been demanding handing over Dawood and 19 others who have taken refuge in Pakistan. Replying to questions on the recent SAARC meeting in Kathmandu, Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal said it was fairly successful and negotiations were held on 250 items offered by Pakistan for preferential tariff. He said talks would continue on a framework agreement among the seven SAARC countries for a free trade accord. (PTI)


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