India, Pak. must exercise restraint: France

NEW DELHI, NOV. 1. While focusing its attention on the developments in Afghanistan, France today urged India and Pakistan to exercise restraint in Jammu and Kashmir and restart their stalled dialogue. The French Foreign Minister, Mr. Hubert Vedrine, who was here on a day-long visit to discuss the rapidly changing Afghanistan scenario said that India and Pakistan, while demonstrating a ``sense of responsibility'', should start talking to each other. ``The problem is that the dialogue does not start even when attempts are made,'' Mr. Vedrine said at a press conference at the French embassy this evening.

The French leader had earlier addressed a joint press conference with his counterpart, Mr. Jaswant Singh, shortly after concluding talks with him, which lasted for nearly an hour at the Hyderabad House. ``We want India and Pakistan to take steps to stop deterioration of their ties,'' he asserted.

Mr. Vedrine's remarks assume importance as the U.S.- led coalition against terrorism is opposed to any diversionary military tensions between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. The Minister hoped that India and Pakistan will deal with each other over Kashmir with a ``cool head'' as this was necessary for ensuring stability in the region.

Mr. Vedrine's observations come at a time when the Indian defence authorities have reported a Pakistani troop build- up in the Akhnoor sector in Jammu and Kashmir and a segment of the Indo- Pakistan border in Rajasthan.

The French Minister made two additional points at the press conference: the campaign against terrorism should cover ``all possible areas'' and India has a ``legitimate interest'' in the future of Afghanistan.

In fact, Indian and French views strongly converged on the key dimensions of the Afghan problem. India now wants that around 15 countries, besides itself, including all the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, should spearhead a new post-conflict initiative in Afghanistan. The two countries also shared a common perception on the role of the former Afghan monarch, Mr. Zahir Shah. France is of the view that Mr. Shah should become the ``catalyst'' for promoting the Loya Jirga - a traditional Afghan political body for determining the country's political future.

Unlike Germany, with whom India recently concluded talks, France is not averse to the involvement of the Northern Alliance in a future government in Afghanistan.

Sources attribute the lack of French hostility towards the Northern Alliance to the close links the French intelligence had developed with the slain Northern Alliance Commander, Ahmad Shah Masood.

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