France will join Indo-Pak talks chorus
30 July 2002
The Asian Age
New Delhi: The French are next in line to join the international chorus urging India and Pakistan to resume their dialogue on Kashmir. French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin will arrive in New Delhi on Friday, his first visit after assuming office, to urge the Vajpayee government to allow international observers in Jammu and Kashmir, to make the elections ''inclusive'' and to open a dialogue with Pakistan to restore peace in the region. Mr Villepin will meet all senior leaders in the government, including deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and, of course, external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha. The French government is clear that war is not a solution and, being nuclear neighbours, both India and Pakistan are ''condemned to peace.'' The not-so-subtle threat of not backing India for the permanent membership of the UN Security Council is also being held out. France is definitely of the view that unless peace is restored in the region, India might find it difficult to deal with global issues with a free mind. France had supported Indiaís bid for the United Nations seat earlier. A question mark, it is now learnt, has been introduced into this particular agreement. Mr Villepin hopes to give a new impetus to his visit by further enriching relations with India and bringing in a global dimension to the relationship. He will use the rapport established between Paris and New Delhi to urge the Vajpayee government to ensure a free and fair election in Jammu and Kashmir as a ''step'' towards the final solution of Kashmir through talks. The French are categorical that elections alone are not a solution and cannot be a substitute for dialogue. Mr Villepin will also underline his governmentís hope that India will allow as many international observers as possible to witness the Jammu and Kashmir polls. He is also expected to support the release of political prisoners, as suggested by Mr Powell during his visit here, to facilitate the participation of as many groups and sections of opinion as possible. He will try and persuade the Indian government to see these as positive measures, even as he points out that dialogue between the two neighbours is now inevitable. The French are also not particularly keen to allow the talks to be linked entirely to a total end to cross-border infiltration, maintaining that this kind of condition will then never allow dialogue to take place. Like the Americans, the French government is also willing to admit that Pakistan can do more to reduce and stop infiltration. But Mr Villepin can be expected to point out that Pakistan has done a lot, and the changes brought in by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf are almost like a ''political earthquake'' when Islamabadís attitude towards terrorism is compared to its viewpoint a year ago. The foreign minister will, however, communicate Indiaís reservations to Pakistan as he is scheduled to visit Islamabad on Saturday. The French government shares the optimism being expressed by the international community that Pakistan will ensure a violence-free poll in Jammu and Kashmir to facilitate dialogue. The pressure on India to resume the dialogue will increase in the coming weeks. It is also clear from the world response that the US, UK and European Union will get together to ensure the presence of international observers in the border state for an ''inclusive'' election. Efforts are on to convince the separatist moderates to give up their reservations and participate in the elections.