NATIONAL

``Eagerly waiting to visit India''

FOR CORDIAL TIES: The Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, in conversation with the visiting Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, in Islamabad on Tuesday. — AP

FOR CORDIAL TIES: The Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, in conversation with the visiting Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, in Islamabad on Tuesday. — AP  

ISLAMABAD, MARCH 15. The Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, told the visiting Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, that he looked forward to visiting India to watch any of the ongoing India-Pakistan cricket matches and utilise the occasion for bilateral contact with the Indian leadership.

Gen. Musharraf told Capt. (retd.) Singh, who called on him along with a delegation from Punjab here today, that he eagerly awaited the opportunity to visit India though no dates have been firmed up yet.

In response to a request made by the Chief Minister, Gen. Musharraf ordered the release of 83 civilian prisoners from Punjab who have completed their prison term.

Separately, the Pakistan Foreign Office said in response to Gen. Musharraf's earlier decision the Interior Ministry had ordered the release of 550 fishermen and 60 civilian prisoners from India.

New Delhi has verified their national status and their formal release could take place in a couple of days.

The Chief Minister raised the issue of trade links between the two countries and urged the General to consider opening land borders for transit trade.

Since the peace process gained momentum in January 2004 Punjabis on both sides have moved to foster close relations.

"I have developed a great equation with the Pakistan Punjab Chief Minister, Pervaiz Elahi. We thought of supplementing the efforts made by the two countries for resolution of differences by establishing links on both sides of Punjab in the fields of sports and culture.

As a relatively smaller state in India Punjab has little say in national affairs but the same cannot be said of Punjab on the Pakistan side.

In this context our efforts have been fruitful", Capt. (retd) Singh told The Hindu.

Sarabjit Pandher reports:

The Adviser to Capt. (retd.) Singh, B.I.S. Chahal, who was present at the meeting, said that while raising the prisoners' release issue, the Chief Minister explained to Gen. Musharraf how Punjabi youth, in their quest for employment abroad, often fell prey to some unscrupulous travel agents and landed themselves in Pakistan jails. While most of the detainees had completed their sentences, others needed to be treated with compassion as they had been wronged already.

Both Capt Singh and Mr. Elahi, thanked the President for his prompt decision regarding the prisoners' release. Mr. Elahi was of the opinion that the initiative would further boost the relations between the two countries.

Among those who accompanied Capt. Singh included the Irrigation and Power Minister, Lal Singh, the Local Government Minister, Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, the Parliamentary Secretary for Industries, Rana K.P. Singh, the Chief Secretary, Jai Singh Gill, the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, Suresh Kumar, the Vice-President of the Confederation of Indian Industries (northern region), Rakesh Mittal, the chairman of Gujarat Ambuja Cement, Suresh Neotia and the chairman of Abhishek Industries, Rajinder Gupta.

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