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Menon reaches Islamabad, skips Kashmir

K J M Varma in Islamabad | July 16, 2003 01:22 IST

Seeking to avoid controversy at the very beginning of his tenure, India's High Commissioner to Pakistan Shiv Shankar Menon on Tuesday deftly sidestepped questions on the thorny Kashmir issue and instead adopted a conciliatory tone as he made his way to Islamabad.

His arrival meant that New Delhi and Islamabad had moved one more step closer to resuming full diplomatic ties after an 18-month break.

Menon crossed into Pakistan at Wagah, where Pakistani officials and Indian diplomats posted in Islamabad extended a warm reception.

A large media contingent was present to cover his arrival at Wagah, and later when he drove to his residence in Islamabad.

"My task is to create an environment for peaceful and friendly relations with Pakistan," he told them adding his arrival in Pakistan was in itself a positive development.

Menon, a career diplomat, was India's ambassador to China before his new assignment, and is still basking in the success of making headway in the Sino-India border dispute.

"I have just taken two steps in your country. Let me at least enter my office before I make a comment on such a heavy issue," is how he chose to sidestep a question on Kashmir.

The envoy said resumption of the bus services and interaction between businessmen of the two sides were positive developments, but a lot more was needed to be done for forging a better relationship.

"Terrorism is an issue. Everybody knows our views. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has said this is an issue that needs to be addressed effectively because if we want the dialogue process to continue, we also need to make the effort to build a proper atmosphere," he said.

He said restoration of air and rail links would be high on his agenda.

He is to take charge of his posting on Wednesday and is expected to present his credentials to Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf later this month.

Before driving into the Pakistani side, Menon, like his Pakistani counterpart Aziz Ahmed Khan, favoured restoration of full strength at both diplomatic missions.

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