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The Rediff Special/ The PM's banquet speech

'There can be no greater legacy that we can leave behind than to do away with mistrust'

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The text of the speech of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee delivered at the banquet organised by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief in his honour

Mr Prime Minister, friends, sisters and brothers,

As we break bread together; a new century and a new millennium knocks on our doors. Fifty years of our independence have gone by. On one side there is pride and on the other regret. Pride because both the countries have been successful in retaining their independence; but regret because even after 50 years we have not liberated ourselves from the curse of poverty and unemployment.

I am grateful to you, Mr Prime Minister, for hosting this banquet in such a historic location. It was in this magnificent fort that Shahjahan was born; it is here than Akbar lived for over a decade.

My delegation and I are overwhelmed by the warmth of your welcome, and the gracious hospitality extended to us. Mr Prime Minister, you have upheld the nobility of this fort and the tradition of the historic city of Lahore. On this occasion, I am reminded of the lines of the 11th century poet Mas'ud bin S'ad bin Salman.

'Shud dar gham 'Lohur rawanam Yarab!
Yarab! Ki dar arzu-e anam Yarab!'

(My soul goes out in longing for Lohur, O God! How I long for it)

Excellency, this is the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Pakistan in 10 years. I am delighted to be here. When I inspected the guard of honour and saw the beautiful panorama of the setting sun, I was overwhelmed by mixed feelings. It gave me joy that I was returning here after 21 years with the message of friendship. My regret is that we have spent so much time in mutual bitterness. It is unworthy of two nations the size of India and Pakistan to have wasted so much time in mutual ill-will.

Earlier when I came to Pakistan, I was alone. This time we have representatives from every section of Indian society.

The bus service between Lahore and Delhi is not a means only to ease travel from one country to another. The running of the bus between the two countries symbolises the desire of the people to improve relations and come together. Indeed, if this was only a bus made of metal, it would not have caused such excitement and expectations, not only in our two nations but all over the world.

It is our duty, Mr Prime Minister, to pursue the desires and wishes of our peoples; to develop, trust, confidence, amity and to create a solid structure for co-operation.

We have been encouraged that our interaction in recent months has focussed on issues which directly benefit the lives of our peoples. Our two countries have engaged within the composite dialogue process to work out mechanisms to ensure that humanitarian concerns are addressed quickly; that possibilities of economic and commercial co-operation such as sale of power are identified and pursued; that confidence-building measures are discussed and agreed upon. But this marks only a beginning. We will, together, give directions to our officials to accelerate what we have jointly set in motion.

We have also discussed those areas of relationship on which we do not see eye to eye. That is only inevitable. As we seek to resolve issues, we have to be conscious that there is nothing which cannot be solved through goodwill and direct dialogue. That is the only path.

I am convinced that there is nothing in our bilateral relations that can ever be resolved through violence. The solution of complex outstanding issues can only be sought in an atmosphere free from prejudice and by adopting the path of balance, moderation and realism. To those that preach, practice or foment violence, I have only one message: understand the simple truth of the path of peace and amity. That is why, as part of the composite dialogue process, we welcome sustained discussions on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. As we approach a new millennium, the future beckons us. It calls upon us, indeed demands of us, to think of the welfare of our children and their children, and of the generations that are yet to come.

I have brought but one message from India. There can be no greater legacy that we can leave behind than to do away with mistrust, to abjure and eliminate conflict, to erect an edifice of durable peace amity, harmony and co-operation. I am confident that through our combined efforts we will succeed in doing so, no matter how hard we have to work in achieving it.

Permit me to extend to you, Mr Prime Minister and to Begum Sahiba a most cordial invitation to visit India. Let me assure you that you will find in India a very warm welcome. We look forward to receiving both of you soon in India.

I express my best wishes for your progress and prosperity, for the establishment of durable peace and co-operation between India and Pakistan.

The Rediff Specials

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