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PM extends `hand of friendship' to Pakistan

By Shujaat Bukhari

The Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, hands over a job appointment letter to a Kashmiri woman as the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed (left), looks on during a public rally in Srinagar on Friday. — PTI

SRINAGAR APRIL 18. Saying that the gun was no solution to any problem, the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, today began his two-day visit to Kashmir with a call for friendship with Pakistan but said it should be extended from both sides. He also reiterated the Centre's promise to hold talks with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and assured complete support to the State Government.

At a massive public meeting attended by around 20,000 people in Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium here today, Mr Vajpayee said his Government had made efforts to build a harmonious relationship with Pakistan. "As Prime Minister of the country I wanted to have friendly relations with our neighbours and I went to Lahore, but it was returned with Kargil. We still continued and invited General Pervez Musharraf to Agra but again failed," said Mr. Vajpayee, the first Prime Minister in 15 years to address a public meeting in Srinagar. "We are again extending a hand of friendship but hands should be extended from both the sides. Both sides should decide to live together. We have everything which makes us to have good relations," Mr. Vajpayee said. This was the time to change the map and "we are busy in Delhi towards that and we need to work together".

Making a reference to Iraq, Mr. Vajpayee said the war should have been averted as "I believe the gun is no solution to problems". It would only kill people and would not solve any problem. The time had come to change Kashmir's fate. "Sitting in Delhi we are concerned about Kashmir," Mr. Vajpayee said amid a thunderous applause.

Without naming any separatist or militant group, he reiterated New Delhi's promise to hold a dialogue on both internal and external problems. "Not only our doors but also our hearts are always open for you. You (can) come to us with your grievances," he said adding "no guns but only brotherhood can resolve the problems".

Complimenting the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's Government, he said the Centre would work in tandem with the State Government. "It is our duty to make Mufti's Government a success."

Kudos to people

Mr. Vajpayee complimented the people of Jammu and Kashmir for exercising their franchise at grave risk to their lives and even daring death. "It (election) is a sacred right which can change your destiny and if (it) falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to destruction." Taking full credit for holding free and fair elections, he referred to his Red Fort speech and said the people had ridiculed him. "They asked which world I was living in as votes cast here are not counted and, even if they are counted are not credited to the right party." He also assured the people that special attention would be paid to the State in addressing unemployment.

Mufti's call to youth

The Chief Minister, Mr. Sayeed, welcoming the Prime Minister, strongly defended his "healing touch" philosophy and said all disputes should be resolved through a dialogue. Making a fervent appeal to the youth to shun the path of violence, he said, "if you have any stand, the gun is no way to achieve your goal. So leave it and come forward to seize the golden opportunity of the talks being held by Mr. Vohra".

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