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September 14, 1998


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Gujral blasts Vajpayee over CTBT

Former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral has assailed the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government for not taking the Opposition into confidence on the course it planned to take on the controversial Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty issue.

''This is sad because ultimately the strength of Indian democracy emanates from national consensus... It is unfortunate that of late the well-structured consensus mechanism has been fractured,'' he said.

Gujral, who is also the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, said he was not in a position to speak anything on reports that India was inching closer towards signing the CTBT until the prime minister spoke to him on the issue.

Asked to comment on the upcoming meeting between the prime minister and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharief in New York on September 23, he said, ''It is a good move on the part of the two countries to sustain contact at the summit level and to try to reactivate bilateral talks at the official level. What needs to be discussed is the total framework of bilateral relations.''

Gujral said it would be in the interest of both the countries not to make their relations ''single-issue oriented''. He regretted that the media in both countries also tried to project Kashmir as the only issue between the two neighbours.

He emphasised that in all diplomatic talks, the results might not be speedy but the sustenance of dialogue by itself was important. ''Some contentious issues between the two of us have been there for a long time now. We can resolve them only by patience and never giving up.''

Gujral said both countries should appreciate the fact that any talk of an armed conflict was ruled out against the backdrop of their having become nuclear powers. ''Hence, we must address ourselves to work out such a relationship as would benefit both countries.''

Asked what should be India's stand on Kashmir at the United Nations General Assembly session, the former prime minister said, ''It is very difficult for me to foresee as to how and in what shape the issue will be raised. But this will not be a new situation. I can't recall any UN session when Pakistan has not raised the issue. My approach was not to take notice of this.''

He recalled that at the last UN General Assembly session where he had represented India as prime minister, Sharief had delivered his address a day before him (Gujral). A major part of Sharief's speech was devoted to India and Kashmir.

''The next day, in my speech, I did not address what he said. I think that the approach has been beneficial to us because entering into polemical diatribes should be avoided by India.''

On United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's equation of Kashmir with the deadlocked peace process in Cyprus, Gujral said, ''The secretary general's report was a normal annual feature. We need not overreact to it''.

He did not agree with a suggestion that the Congress move to send delegations to China and South Africa was aimed at embarrassing the government. He said virtually all Indian political parties had party-to-party relations with various countries. ''If Congress leaders go to China or South Africa, I see nothing wrong in it. Such visits should be treated as routine and not overplayed.''

Asked to comment on the civil strife in Afghanistan and whether it would have any repercussions for India, Gujral said, ''The situation is of great concern because the Taliban set-up has been encouraging terrorism in various parts of the world. At the moment their (Taliban) postures are causing strains in their neighbourhood from Central Asia, Iran to Pakistan''. India, therefore, would have to keep a vigil.


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