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|February 21, 1999||
PMs skirt Kashmir, focus on security
George Iype in Lahore
The 51-year-old dispute between India and Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir and the need for confidence-building measures in the wake of the nuclear tests conducted by both countries last May dominated the historic summit between prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharief in Lahore.
Though their Lahore Declaration claims that both countries will strive to resolve the Kashmir dispute, the memorandum of understanding dwells mostly on nuclear and security matters.
Many believe the prime ministers did not spend much time discussing the vexed Kashmir problem and have left it to their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries to tackle at future meetings.
The MoU merely states that both Vajpayee and Sharief abide by their agreement of September 23, 1998. An environment of peace and security is in the "supreme national interest" of both sides, for which a resolution of all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute, is essential, it adds.
While not much headway has been made on the Kashmir question, a serious attempt has been made by Vajpayee and Sharief to address security-related issues as both countries have demonstrated their nuclear capabilities.
Thus, the MoU makes it imperative for the two countries to engage in bilateral consultation on security concepts and nuclear doctrines to develop confidence-building measures aimed at avoiding any conflict.
Most significantly, both countries have decided to provide each other with advance notification of ballistic missile flight tests. They will conclude a bilateral agreement in this regard shortly.
The MoU pledges that India and Pakistan will undertake national measures to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorised use of the nuclear weapons in their control.
"Both sides will immediately notify each other in the event of any accidental or unexplained incident that could create adverse consequences or an outbreak of a nuclear war," the MoU stated.
While the countries will soon identify and establish an appropriate communication mechanism for this purpose, they will also abide by their respective unilateral moratoria on further nuclear tests. But there is a rider, which is that either country can conduct nuclear tests if extraordinary events jeopardise their national interests.
India and Pakistan will conclude an agreement to prevent incidents at sea to ensure the safety of navigation by naval vessels and aircraft belonging to both sides.
They will also undertake a review of the existing communication between military operations of both countries by upgrading these links and providing fail-safe and secure communications.
Vajpayee and Sharief decided to engage in strategic bilateral talks on security, disarmament and non-proliferation.
Experts from both sides will chalk out the technical details of the nuclear confidence-building and security measures by mid-1999. The prime ministers said a series of bilateral agreements could then be signed on these issues.
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