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India PM says ready to work with Pakistan for peace
( 2003-08-15 16:45) (Agencies)

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called on Pakistan on Friday to walk the high road of peace but said Islamabad must end what he called cross-border terrorism.

Pakistan Brigadier Sahi Marjan (2nd-L) presents sweets to Indian Batallion Commander D.K.Sharma to mark Pakistan's 56th Independence Day celebrations at Wagah border post near Lahore August 14, 2003. Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali called for peace with nuclear rival India on Thursday, saying key differences between the two countries had to be resolved. [Reuters]
"On the occasion of our Independence Day anniversaries, I invite Pakistan to join us on the road for peace," he said in an address to the nation from the 17th century Red Fort in the old quarter of New Delhi.

"The path ahead is rocky, there are minefields, but if we work together, the obstacles will go away," Vajpayee said from within a three-sided cabin of bullet-proof glass. "We have been fighting for 50 years, how much more blood shall we spill?"

Last year, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan came close to waging their fourth war since independence from Britain in 1947 following a deadly attack on the Indian parliament that New Delhi blamed on Pakistani militants.

The two countries restored diplomatic ties and bus links after Vajpayee vowed in April to make a final drive for peace.

But peace talks remain on hold because of New Delhi's insistence that Islamabad stop the flow of guerrillas into the disputed region of Muslim majority Kashmir which is at the heart of more than half a century of animosity.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of "cross-border terrorism" by backing militant attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere.

"We have made some progress in normalizing ties, but terrorist incidents are still going on. Is our neighbor willing to completely halt cross-border terrorism ? That will be the test of its sincerity," Vajpayee said.

Islamabad denies direct involvement in the nearly 14-year revolt in Kashmir which has killed more than 38,000 people but seeks a plebiscite to determine the future of the territory.


Tens of thousands of soldiers and police were on high alert across the country for the Independence Day celebrations, amid fears of militant violence.

On the eve of Friday's ceremonies, rebels fighting Indian rule in the remote northeast killed 34 people in a bomb blast and shootouts.

Guerrilla groups in the northeast and the main separatist alliance in Kashmir, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, have called for a boycott of Independence Day events.

Road blocks and checkpoints were set up across New Delhi, sharpshooters were posted on high-rise buildings around the Red Fort and an area of 300 km (185 miles) around New Delhi was declared a no-fly zone for a few hours for the official ceremonies.

Hundreds of VIPs sheltering under umbrellas and schoolchildren in raincoats gathered outside the Red Fort for Vajpayee's speech.

India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, unfurled the national flag at the Red Fort in 1947 to mark the end of British colonial rule and since then successive prime ministers have stood on the red sandstone rampart to address the nation.

India and Pakistan gained their independence from British rule at midnight on August 14, 1947, but celebrate on different days: Pakistan on August 14 and India August 15.

In his independence day address on Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali also called for both nations -- which have fought three wars -- to work together to end decades of mistrust.

"We have a 2,000 km long border, and yet we trade through third nations. I can't understand this," Vajpayee said, adding people-to-people and cultural exchanges must be launched to open "doors and windows in the wall between us."

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