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India's PM Moves to Improve Ties With Pakistan - 2003-05-27

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has promised to try to improve ties with Pakistan.

Mr. Vajpayee said India will build on steps already taken to improve relations with Pakistan and he hopes these measures will create an atmosphere in which both countries can resume a dialogue.

New Delhi said Monday it will resume bi-weekly bus service between the Indian capital and the Pakistani city of Lahore. It is part of an incremental restoration of travel links between the two countries. India severed transport links with Pakistan after the December 2001 attack on its Parliament, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic militants.

India has also announced it will release 70 Pakistani fishermen and 60 civilian prisoners from Indian custody.

It was the latest signal that relations between the two countries continue to improve. The upturn began a month ago when the Indian prime minister offered what he called a "hand of friendship" to Pakistan.

Mr. Vajpayee said he wants a bilateral dialogue between the two countries to begin as soon as possible after a two-year break.

But he added that talks can only be meaningful if cross-border terrorism ends and if the infrastructure of terrorism is dismantled by Pakistan.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting, training, and funding Islamic militants waging a separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir. Islamabad denies the charge.

Political analysts in India say Mr. Vajpayee's latest comments on improving relations with Pakistan are meant to convey to Western leaders that New Delhi is sincere in its efforts to make peace with Islamabad.

Mr. Vajpayee will hold bilateral talks with the German and the French presidents during his week-long European visit. He is also expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin when he joins the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg.