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Our hopes lie with Vajpayee: Pak.

By Our Special Correspondent

The Pakistan Information Minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed (right), addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday. The Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Aziz Ahmed Khan, is seen next to him. — Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

NEW DELHI NOV. 12. The Pakistan Information Minister, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, said today that the "non-resolution of the Kashmir dispute" hampered the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan and eclipsed cooperation within the region.

Mr. Ahmed, who is here to attend the SAARC Information Ministers' Conference, said: "the continued hostility between the two largest countries in the region — Pakistan and India — had adversely affected the growth of trade, economic and cultural relations in South Asia". And, for the second time this week, he reiterated Pakistan's confidence in the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee's ability to break the 50-year-old political impasse.

In a statement circulated at the press conference, he said: "We, in Pakistan, have great hopes from the statesmanship of Prime Minister Vajpayee to start a new chapter of friendship and amity between the two countries".

More than once, he showered praise on Mr. Vajpayee. "He is a man of vision; he is a bold man; he can take decisions," he said adding that Pakistan saw Mr. Vajpayee as the one person who could break the deadlock on the Kashmir issue.

Mr. Ahmed said the doors of dialogue should always remain open. Pakistan had a bold leadership which would be willing to reciprocate one step forward by India with two. However, he was quick to add that Pakistan was left with little option but to reciprocate in like fashion whenever India went arms shopping and tested its firepower.

The "enormous groundswell for peace at the popular level" in both countries should be reason for making a "new beginning in bilateral relations by addressing all outstanding disputes bedevilling our relations".

Referring to the suspension of the Delhi-Lahore bus service and the ban on TV channels, he said India fired the first salvo and Pakistan had to reciprocate "though I kept urging India to reconsider".

Mr. Ahmed said India had recently become the "blue-eyed boy" of the United States. While America changed its preferences, the harsh reality of prevailing times was that the superpower could and would intervene as it pleased. "There can be no denying the fact that the superpower has a say in international affairs," he added.

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