India on Wednesday took the initiative in propping up the floundering peace process with Pakistan by proposing 12 confidence building measures.
Also see: Complete coverage of the Indo-Pak peace process
The measures include resumption of cricketing ties, more buses to Lahore and a new bus service between Srinagar and Muzzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
But India also made it clear that there will be no let up in its fight against cross-border terrorism.
Other measures offered by New Delhi included a second round of talks to restore air links and overflights and technical-level discussions for resumption of Samjhauta Express rail service.
These decisions were taken at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security presided over by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Wednesday morning.
Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal conveyed the decisions to Pakistan High Commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan.
"We will expect Pakistan to respond positively," External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha told a crowded press conference while announcing the measures.
The measures, 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.
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.
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. "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. "There is no question of India giving any guarantees to Pakistan in this regard."
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, the 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 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.
Following are the 12 fresh proposals announced by India:
- Restoration of cricketing and other sporting links
- Launching of a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in Pak-occupied Kashmir.
- Holding of second round of talks for restoration of air links and overflights.
- Discuss resumption of rail links after aviation talks and increasing the capacity of Delhi-Lahore bus service.
- Setting up of links between the Coast Guards of the two countries on the pattern of Directors General of Military operations.
- Stop arresting of fishermen within certain specified areas in the Arabian Sea.
- Issue visas in cities other than New Delhi and Islamabad.
- Permit citizens above 65 years to cross Wagah border on foot.
- Launching of ferry service between Mumbai and Karachi.
- Bus or rail link between Khokrapar in Rajasthan and Munnabao in Pakistan's Sindh province
- ree medical treatment for 20 more ailing Pakistani children in India
- Mutual increase in the staff strength of respective High Commissions in Delhi and Islamabad.
With inputs from Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
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