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Pak looks forward to resumption of peace talks

K J M Varma | May 13, 2004 21:18 IST

  Pakistan said today that it hoped to work with the new government on continuing the process of normalizing ties and reaching a peaceful settlement of all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. The Congress, which is poised to form the new government, also expressed its commitment to good relations with Pakistan under the Shimla agreement.

"Pakistan desires peaceful and cooperative relations with India and looks forward to renewing the quest for promoting peace and stability in South Asia with the new government in India," the Pakistani foreign office announced in a statement.

"Pakistan will endeavour to seek a peaceful settlement of all outstanding issues between the two countries, including Jammu and Kashmir," the statement said, without directly referring to the dialogue process agreed to by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf.

The Congress stressed it had consistently been for dialogue between the two countries.

"The Congress has always taken the initiative for having good neighbourly relations with Pakistan," K Natwar Singh, chairman of the All-India Congress Committee Foreign Affairs Department, said, adding that the 1972 Shimla Agreement provided the framework under which discussions could be held on all outstanding issues.

He was non-committal on whether a Congress-led government would pursue the road map laid out by the NDA government.

"Let the government be formed. We will have to go into details after that, he said.

Earlier, reacting cautiously to the election results, Pakistan Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said Pakistan believed a change in government would not affect the peace process since it had the backing of the people of both countries. Without naming Vajpayee, he said that the composite dialogue initiated by both countries was not based on personalities.

"Hopefully this process will be continued.... Peace is the demand of world," he said.

Former foreign minister Abdul Sattar said the victory of the Congress under Sonia Gandhi augured well for Pakistan. He said Gandhi had expressed her support for a dialogue when she met General Musharraf on the sidelines of the Agra summit. He said Congress leaders like Gandhi and Manmohan Singh were mature and that he expected no "sudden ups and downs" in the process.

Vice President of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) Kabir Ali Wasti said his party hoped the Congress victory would provide an ideal opportunity to further the peace process. He said he has already sent his good wishes to Gandhi through the Indian High Commission and called for an early meeting between her and Musharraf.

Indo-Pak relations have witnessed a series of ups and downs during Vajpayee's tenure since 1998, with the bilateral ties touching a new low in 1999 due to Kargil conflict.

Musharraf, who overthrew the government of Premier Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless military coup inOctober 1999, travelled to India in July 2001 for the bilateral Agra summit, which turned out to be a failure.

The bilateral ties reached their lowest ebb after the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament with both countries coming to the brink of a war.

Vajpayee offered a "hand of friendship" to Islamabad while addressing a rally in Srinagar in April 2003, following which the two sides announced several confidence-building measures, including resumption of full diplomatic relations and restoration of travel links, severed after the attack on Parliament.

Ending over two years of freeze in their bilateral talks, which had broken down at Agra, Vajpayee and Musharraf met on the sidelines of the 12th SAARC summit in January this year in Islamabad and decided to initiate the composite dialogue process for peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, after the general gave an assurance that he would not permit Pakistani territory to be used to support terrorism "in any manner".

As part of the composite dialogue process, senior Foreign Ministry officials from the two countries are due to meet next month for another round of talks, which will be followed by foreign minister-level discussions in July-August.

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