India has worked out the 'entire road map' for talks with Pakistan, External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha said on Monday.
But he made it clear that India was adopting a 'step-by-step approach'. "Every step is clear in our mind. There is no confusion in the Government of India and we will proceed according to the plan," Sinha said.
"Well, in a way, the plan has already started. The two prime ministers have spoken on telephone. Some steps have been taken. We have announced some steps and there has been some response from Pakistan. And I suppose at some appropriate time, the dialogue will also begin," he said
"The thawing has already begun.... but there will be no dramatic gestures. The general approach is to begin with official-level talks leading up to to a political summit. The idea is to prepare the groundwork, discuss what we are going to talk about, what will be the procedures before we take the final step," he added.
Rejecting Pakistan's contention that Kashmir is the core issue, Sinha emphasised that a dialogue should take place on a variety of issues, including Kashmir. "None of the existing agreements between the countries have ever referred to Kashmir as the core issue. When you start a process, you can't rewrite history or erase it. You have to start on the basis of existing agreements. The right approach would be to treat J&K as one of the issues, and start a dialogue on all issues."
To a pointed query whether ending cross-border terrorism was a pre-condition to the resumption of dialogue, he said, "Ending cross-border terrorism is not a precondition but a practical necessity."
Asked whether there were any objective criteria for determining whether cross-border terrorism had ended, he said, "There is no need for objective criteria. We are suffering from cross-border terrorism and we are aware of what is happening on the ground. A benchmark can only be the stoppage of all violence. Every innocent human life lost is important."
Dismissing suggestions that India's peace initiative was taken under American pressure, Sinha in an interview to television channel NDTV 24X7 emphasised that Pakistan must put an end to cross-border terrorism for any positive outcome.
Emphasising that India will not rush into summit level talks, Sinha said, "The summit will come right at the end. In the meanwhile, there are a number of issues that are best discussed at official level."
"The final thing is to be able to reach an understanding on all the identified issues which either side might raise... so that there could be a successful summit and all this understanding could be put into document, whatever we want to produce," he said.
On whether the dialogue process was irreversible and what impact renewed terrorism will have, Sinha said, "We have taken a step forward, and once we take it we intend to stay with it. As the prime minister has called it, this is a final and decisive step that we have taken. But we will be cautious. It is a very delicate and difficult process, and a long road lies ahead of us. Let no one have any illusions."
Contending that Indo-Pak dialogue must be kept separate from the proposed SAARC summit in Islamabad, he said, "There have been SAARC summits in the past that have not led to a dialogue between India and Pakistan. I don't think a bilateral summit can be confused with a SAARC summit."
But he declined to commit himself to whether India would attend SAARC summit this year, saying no dates had still been fixed.
Describing Vajpayee's hand of friendship statement as evidence of his statesmanship, Sinha said, "The Americans were taken as much by surprise as everyone else by the PM's speech. So, how can anyone say that Washington is setting the agenda?"
On the just-concluded visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, he said the US official was not a 'messenger' between India and Pakistan. "My dialogue with Armitage was not Pak-centric, and we focussed on bilateral issues. The Americans are aware of the situation on the ground, and we are aware of it, and so are the Pakistanis. I don't think we need any messengers between India and Pakistan to tell each other what is happening on the ground. The facts, as we see them, have been communicated to Armitage."
Asked whether any specific assurance had been given and conveyed through Armitage by Pakistan on the issue of cross- border terrorism and dismantling of terrorist camps, Sinha said, "Assurances have been given before. All assurances will be tested on the basis of ground realities."
On restoration of air, road and rail links between the two countries, he said, "It will all happen in good time. I am not setting any deadlines at this stage because setting deadlines would be a mistake at a sensitive time like this."
About resumption of sporting links, including cricket and hockey matches, he said, "I think once a conducive atmosphere is created for talks, specific steps will be taken."
The minister chose to ignore remarks by Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri that his recent visit to Africa was aimed at blocking Pakistan's re-entry into the Commonwealth. "I think the less we talk, the better it is for talks. If I were to respond to everything Kasuri said, it would only end up queering the pitch."
On why government termed Pakistan's response to Vajpayee's initiative as 'completely inadequate', he said there was 'silence on terrorism' and no response to India's desire to enhance trade ties. "There are aspects that we welcome, there are issues where we feel more can be done."
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