Wednesday, Jul 16, 2003
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India & World
By B. Muralidhar Reddy
India's High Commissioner-designate to Pakistan, Shiv Shanker Menon (centre), being escorted as he heads towards Pakistan at the Wagah border crossing on Tuesday.
In an informal talk with correspondents, after crossing over to Pakistan through the Wagah checkpost, Mr. Menon said, "peace is definitely possible between the two neighbouring countries''.
The Deputy High Commissioner, T.C.A. Raghavan, and the Protocol Officer of Indian High Commission at Islamabad accompanied him. To a question on how peace can be ensured between the two countries, Mr. Menon said, "answer to this question is not that easy and if it were known how this objective can be achieved then there would have been no problem and matters would have been solved''.
Asked about difficulties being faced by people in getting visa for visiting the two countries he said, "I have just arrived in Pakistan. However, provision of visa facilities to people and restoration of air and rail links are on the agenda, as such steps would help improve the relations between the two countries." Mr. Menon is taking over the new job amid the heightened expectations of improved relations and a number of unresolved contentious issues between the two countries.
Like his counterpart in India, Aziz Ahmed Khan, the Indian envoy travelled by road and crossed the Wagha border. From Lahore he journeyed to Islamabad by road and reached here late in the evening.
Indications are he would present his credentials to the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, some time towards the end of the month. Gen. Musharraf is leaving on a three-nation African tour tomorrow and would be back in Pakistan only on July 24.
It would be nearly after a gap of 19 months that the Indian mission would have representation at the High Commissioner level. The last High Commissioner, Vijay K. Nambiar, was recalled by New Delhi on December 26, 2001 in the wake of the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on the Parliament House.
Mr. Menon would have a hectic time ahead of him as he goes about reorganising the Indian mission badly affected on account of the deterioration of relations with Pakistan. After the Parliament attack incident, the strength of the missions was halved. It was further cut twice. From effective strength of 110 each, now the number of staff in the missions is down to 45 on both sides. Vacancies that arose during the period of tension have not been filled up.
The Pakistan Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, has proposed restoration original strength. But India has so far not responded to the suggestion. Mr. Menon today indicated that this is one of the subjects on the agenda of both the countries.
Resuming air links
Resumption of air links is another contentious issue that Mr. Menon would be confronted with. Both India and Pakistan have agreed on the restoration of air links but have serious differences on whether it automatically covers over-flight facilities. Pakistan is insisting on guarantees that henceforth whenever India decides to suspend air links, it should not automatically cover over-flight facilities. A meeting of technical experts on the subject has been planned but Islamabad is yet to indicate date and venue for the conference.
Restoration of the Samjutha train service, enhancement of trade ties with specific reference to agreements arrived within the SAARC framework, resumption of cricket and other sporting ties are among the other important issues that await attention of Mr. Menon. His work could only be expected to double if the SAARC summit were to go ahead here as agreed at the Standing Committee meeting of Foreign Secretaries in Kathmandu last week and by any chance situation moves towards an Indo-Pak summit on the sidelines. Hours before Mr. Menon arrived here Pakistan made it known that if New Delhi wished to pursue `step by step' approach in normalisation of ties and resumption of dialogue, then Kashmir must figure first. In other words, Pakistan is back to the theme of Kashmir as the `core' issue of dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi.
Reacting to the reported statement of the External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, in an interview to an Indian daily, a spokesperson of the Pakistan Foreign Ministry asserted that talks between Pakistan and India must focus on the core issue of Kashmir and India must recognise this "reality''. In the interview Mr. Sinha has been quoted as saying that Kashmir is not a `core' issue for India.
A Pakistan Foreign Ministry official said, "we continue to see a spate of contradictory messages from the media, as part of a propaganda blitz (by India). India should make up its mind. If it wishes to pursue a `step-by-step' approach, then of course Jammu and Kashmir, which is the core issue, must figure first.''
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