New Govt to stick to dialogue timetable: Natwar Singh

Updated on May 24, 2004 01:26 AM IST

The Govt is prepared to discuss everything with Pakistan, including J&K, said K Natwar Singh, the newly appointed External Affairs Minister.

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PTI | ByP Jayaram (Indo-Asian News Service), New Delhi

The new government will stick to the dialogue timetable with Pakistan and is prepared to discuss everything, including Jammu and Kashmir, K Natwar Singh, who has been appointed External Affairs Mnister, has said.

"It (the dialogue) will continue. Why should there be any change? I don't see any change," Singh told IANS in his first interview after being sworn in on Saturday.

"We will discuss everything with Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir, nuclear question, any other issues et al," Natwar Singh said. The interview was conducted before the formal allocation of portfolios to the new ministers.

He noted that officials and experts of the two countries would discuss for the first time nuclear confidence-building measures at a two-day meeting from Tuesday.

These talks are in line with an agreement reached by the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan at their meeting in Islamabad February 18. That meeting set down modalities and a timeframe for what is called the "composite dialogue process" aimed at addressing all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.

The foreign secretaries will meet in May-June for talks on peace and security, including confidence-building measures and Jammu and Kashmir.

"We have to continue the talks with Pakistan. We have always been in favour of good neighbourly relations with Pakistan," said Singh, who served as high commissioner to Pakistan in the early 1980s and later became minister of state for external affairs in the government of prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

He said the Simla Agreement, signed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistan President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1972, and subsequent agreements provided a broad framework in which the dialogue could be held on all contentious issues.

"It has been our consistent policy. There will be no change in that," he said.

He criticised the predecessor government of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, saying it had changed its Pakistan policy "five times in five years".

"After Indira Gandhi signed the Simla Agreement with Pakistan President Bhutto in July 1972, there was no conflict till 1999 - 27 years", but after the previous government came to power bilateral relations had been "up and down and up and down", he noted.

"First they said they would not talk unless cross-border terrorism stops. Then they went to Lahore, we supported it. When they came back from Lahore, (then external affairs minister) Jaswant Singh said it was a 'defining moment'. Soon we had Kargil (conflict), some defining moment."

He referred to how Pakistan President Pervez Mushrraf was invited for summit talks in Agra in 2001 and the "fiasco" that followed, the mobilisation of troops following the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament.

"The prime minister said in Sikkim on April 16 'I will not talk to Pakistan till cross-border terrorism stops. Two days later he was in Srinagar and said 'I extend my hand of friendship'.

"What happened in these 48 hours? We welcomed it, fine, but you know all this up and down and up and down was not good," Singh said.

"Again, first he said he would not go to SAARC (summit in Islamabad). Then he said he will go but not meet Musharraf when everybody knew he will go and he will meet him. Then they said it will be a courtesy call. Who were they trying to fool? It was going to be a substantive meeting. Good thing, we welcomed it."

Asked about the Vajpayee government's projection of the Pakistan policy as one of its major foreign policy successes, Singh countered: "What success?

"We have consistently said we support you (government), please talk to them, but suddenly for no reason they stopped."

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