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India scales down anti-Pak rhetoric

By Shyam Bhatia in London
May 21, 2003 17:49 IST
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A marked reduction in anti-Pakistan rhetoric was evident in India's responses at the recently concluded meeting in London of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.

India is a member of CMAG, which met earlier this week to discuss some key issues, including lifting Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth imposed after the 1999 military coup.

Although Pakistan remains suspended for the time being, Indian External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha refused to be drawn on whether Islamabad's continued blackballing was justified.

On previous occasions, both India and Pakistan have used the Commonwealth and other international fora to launch vicious verbal attacks against each other, but none of that was evident this time round in London.

"Quite frankly its a different situation now," Sinha told reporters following the CMAG meeting. "As the secretary general explained, points of view were expressed and we were able to arrive at a conclusion reached on a unanimous basis and that is a matter of satisfaction."

Asked if he was satisfied with Pakistan's response to Prime Minister Vajpayee's peace initiative, Sinha replied, "If you look at the way things have evolved, statements made by our prime minister and statements made by Pakistani leaders, you will find some kind of agenda has emerged.

"Our prime minister said that, one, we will appoint a high coimmissioner and, two, we want to open the air space. The appointment of the high commissioner has been announced, but so far we have received nothing from Pakistan on their new high commissioner in Delhi.

"Pakistan's prime minister suggested opening road and air links, he also suggested sporting engagements. The immediate agenda is these five items, we have moved on the first and are awaiting their response."

Sinha said Britain is among five members of the international community who have publicly welcomed the India-Pakistan thaw. The others are the United States, the European Union, Japan and Eitrea.

In London, visiting British High Commissioner to India Sir Rob Young welcomed Vajpayee's initiative, describing it as "bold, courageous and so far bearing fruit." He said Vajpayee's personal commitment to peace deserved international

Describing the last year as "most difficult," Sir Rob revealed that India and Pakistan had come very close to a war. "We and the US worked closely [to prevent a conflict] with India and was a major challenge," he said.


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Shyam Bhatia in London