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India proposes a dozen steps to break the ice with Pak.

NEW DELHI OCT. 22. In an attempt to break the India-Pakistan logjam, New Delhi today proposed to Islamabad a new bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, a ferry service between Mumbai and Karachi, restoration of the Khokhrapar-Munabao (Sindh-Rajasthan) link by rail or bus and crossing of the Wagah border on foot by persons above the age of 65.

The External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, said the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which met here today, also agreed to propose a "hotline" between the Coast Guard of India and that of Pakistan on the existing pattern of the Directors-General of Military Operations and flag meetings at sea and the non-arrest of fishermen at sea by the two countries in a mutually-agreed zone.

Announcing a dozen radical proposals, Mr. Sinha said that India was willing to have another round of talks on the civil aviation front — to restore the air links and also for overflight facilities. The Indian Director-General of Civil Aviation will contact his Pakistani counterpart for the purpose.

Mr. Sinha, however, made it clear that India was not about to jump into a summit-level dialogue with Pakistan since there was no change insofar as infiltration of terrorists into India was concerned. New Delhi was also willing to discuss the restoration of the Samjhauta Express, but linked these technical-level talks to the "successful completion" of the dialogue on civil aviation. The suggestion to restore the rail links had come from Pakistan.

India was not about to give any "guarantee" to Pakistan on overflights. The CCS, he said, also decided to offer an increase in the capacity of the Lahore-Delhi bus service — by running convoys of buses on the already agreed days of the week. The Delhi Transport Corporation has been asked to work out the details.

Mr. Sinha said India had also agreed to the resumption of sporting contacts — including cricket and other games. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), he said, was free to decide what matches it wanted to play with Pakistan.According to him, New Delhi is also willing to hold "visa camps" in different Pakistani cities by mutual agreement on the frequency of such camps.

Mission staff strength

Mr. Sinha said India had agreed to provide free medical treatment to another batch of 20 Pakistani children — 16 had already availed themselves of the facility announced earlier. After these steps were taken, India was also willing to negotiate with Pakistan an increase in the staff strength of the High Commissions.

Both nations recently agreed to add eight more persons to the number reduced after the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament House.

Mr. Sinha said that all the proposals had already been conveyed by the Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal, to the Pakistani High Commissioner, Aziz Ahmed Khan, earlier in the day — before being released to the press.

(A senior Pakistani High Commission official told this correspondent that the proposals had already been conveyed to the authorities concerned in Islamabad. A response would come from Pakistan, he added.)

Asked if the start of a Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, with exit and entry stamps, would not mean turning the Line of Control into a border, Mr. Sinha said: "These are matters of detail which will have to be worked out, but the LoC is an existing reality."

`Nothing happening behind the back'

On whether these proposals had been preceded by behind-the-scenes contact between India and Pakistan, he said, "I am not aware of anything happening behind your back, my back or someone else's back."

India, he said, was serious about the April 18 peace initiative announced by the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and would work overtime to ensure that the initiative succeeded.

"We hope that as a result of the steps announced today, Pakistan will be persuaded to give up the path of confrontation, of violence, of cross-border terrorism and come to the negotiating table in a spirit which is necessary to sustain dialogue."

Summit-level talks

Promising that India would remain steadfast in its battle against cross-border terrorism, Mr. Sinha ruled out a summit-level meeting between India and Pakistan on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Islamabad in the first week of January.

Summits, he said, would not be the starting point of a dialogue. Nor would the "presence" of Indian or Pakistani leaders at a multilateral forum lead to discussions on the sidelines.

Asked if this meant that India was willing to talk at the level of Joint Secretary or Foreign Secretary, Mr. Sinha said this was not possible unless "we see evidence on the ground that cross-border terrorism has been brought to an end".

Today's proposals come just a month after India and Pakistan traded allegations at the United Nations' General Assembly in New York, and go far beyond the Pakistani position of restoring the pre-December 13, 2001, position between the two countries.

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