March 2004 News

At Pak Mission Dinner, It's Cricket, Peace

23 March 2004
The Indian Express

New Delhi: As India and Pakistan gear for battle on the cricket fields of Lahore tomorrow, on the same patch of grass - at the Pakistan High Commission this evening - representatives of New Delhi, Islamabad and Kashmir broke bread and spoke of a new brotherhood for the sub- continent. With one exception. Hardline Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Geelani continued to speak bitterly about the 'futility' of the ongoing dialogue between the Centre and the Hurriyat, and in fact, seemed to adopt the corrosive jargon of 'UN resolutions' and 'third- party mediation' that Islamabad itself seems to have recently abandoned. New Delhi this evening fielded Commerce minister Arun Jaitley as chief guest of Pakistan's national day, a far cry from the middle-ranking MEA official who stood somewhat apart from the madding crowd at the exact time last year. It helped that Jaitley was freshly returned from the Gadhafi stadium and, therefore, symbolic of the new atmosphere of peace that will be crucially tested again tomorrow. MoS in PMO Vijay Goel will now represent the government at Lahore tomorrow, even as Shatrughan Sinha plans to be there with his family. Pakistani High Commissioner Aziz Khan was the perfect diplomat, allocating one sofa on the green grass to Geelani & Co, another to the Ansari party and the one right in the middle to Jaitley. Of course, he sat beside Jaitley through the course of the evening. Another indication that things had changed, for the better, was the optimism apparent in Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Bhat's significant statement. 'Atal Behari Vajpayee has the vision and Musharraf has the realism. If both come together, a lasting solution can be found. It is very much in the realm of possibility since both are talking about going beyond the stated positions.' Bhat made it clear that he himself was willing to go 'beyond' all stated positions to solve the Kashmir issue - which he said, was inescapably linked to peace in South Asia. 'We are here to talk to the government and will continue the dialogue till a solution is found. Problems are not solved in a day or two,' he said, enjoying the undivided attention of several western diplomats who couldn't have agreed more. One person, however, begged to differ. Breakaway faction leader Geelani, who had turned up with an entourage of over 50 supporters from all over the Valley, continued with his refrain that nothing will come out of the talks. 'Unless the disputed nature of Kashmir is accepted by India, and Pakistan involved in tripartite talks, no dialogue can yield results.' He obviously did not want to 'go beyond' any stated positions. Meanwhile, Ansari & Co. are all set to meet British High Commissioner Michael Arthur in New Delhi tomorrow, and in the process of fixing a meeting with US ambassador David Mulford, before they enter their second round of talks with Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani on March 27.


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