June 1999 News

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War Not Rules Out: Sharif

6 June 1999
The Pioneer

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday accused India of thwarting peace talks and warned that war between the world's newest nuclear countries is a possibility.

"Chances of a war between Pakistan and India cannot be ruled out," Mr Sharif told reporters in his hometown of Lahore. His statement came just hours after New Delhi said it was not ready to hold a foreign ministry level meeting on Monday as Pakistan had hoped.

"India is not serious about holding peace talks," said Mr Sharif, accusing India of violating the Lahore declaration signed between the two countries in February in which both India and Pakistan agreed to settle their disputes, including Kashmir, through negotiations.

Mr Sharif warned that because the two countries are declared nuclear powers there is an added responsibility on the governments of India and Pakistan to pursue negotiations.

"Both the countries are nuclear powers... It is their responsibility to defuse tensions through negotiations," Mr Sharif said.

Mr Sartaz Aziz said that Pakistan will await new dates. However, he warned "the sooner talks are held the better."

Faced with US President Bill Clinton’s counsel to respect the LoC and defuse tension with India, Mr Sharif earlier in the day pleaded for major powers playing a "constructive role" in settling the Kashmir issue by "giving right of self determination to the kashmiri people".

Mr Sharif made the remarks when the US ambassador to Pakistan, William Milam called on him and handed over Mr Clinton's letter which, an official release, said only spoke of "his concern over the current tension of the LoC in Kashmir and his appeal to India and Pakistan to exercise restraint".

Mr Clinton in a letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said he had asked Mr Sharif to respect the LoC and take steps to defuse tension. Mr Sharif told the US ambassador that he had repeatedly emphasised the "centrality of the Kashmir dispute to peace and security in South Asia," the release said.

Sources in Pakistan Government said the Indian stand that only the present situation along the LoC would be discussed was not acceptable to Pakistan as it wanted the overall Kashmir issue as the point of discussion.

Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz was quoted by The Nation daily that "Pakistan is not in favour of continuing tension, and its effort is to deescalate the situation and seek solution to all problems, the core issue among them being the Kashmir dispute, through peaceful means and dialogue".

Indian authorities tried to settle this when barely a couple of days after Sharif spoke to Mr Vajpayee on May 28, a senior MEA official undertook a secret mission to Islamabad to hold talks with the Pakistani authorities.

The mission, which was kept secret, apparently failed because a day after the Indian official returned to New Delhi on June 1, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Tariq Altaf accused India of delaying the meet.

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