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Sunday, February 21, 1999 Published at 14:43 GMT


Cautious media welcome to Indo-Pakistani 'bus diplomacy'

Media reaction in the subcontinent was largely favourable but cautious following Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's historic bus ride to the Pakistani city of Lahore and subsequent meetings with counterpart Nawaz Sharif.

"What is next?" asked All India Radio in a commentary on the visit.

"Though there is optimism in both camps, what the outcome of their summit could be is still not clear," it said.

It said there was a "plethora" of issues for the two men to talk about, ranging from the Kashmir question to nuclear weapons.

"The only saving grace for Mr Vajpayee and Mr Sharif is that they have no fixed agenda for their talks, otherwise the discussions could be endless," the commentary said.

But it added that the matters before the two leaders "had to be tackled with all seriousness" , particularly the nuclear issue as "time is running out" before the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has to be signed in September for it to take any effect.

"The opportunity is there, but there is a hitch," the commentary went on.

"It is now a question of whether they board the bus or miss the bus."

Pakistan's view

Pakistani radio welcomed Mr Vajpayee's trip as "an event of outstanding importance" and "surpassingly important" .

A commentary said the visit formed part of long-standing efforts to heal relations between the two countries.

Prime Minister Sharif, it said, "has been working in that positive direction ever since he returned to office for his second term" .

"His current meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee can quite properly be seen as a continuation of the process Mr Nawaz Sharif initiated just over a year ago." But Pakistan's second-largest daily `Nawa-i-Waqt' was less upbeat about the visit.

In an editorial published two days before Vajpayee's arrival, the paper described the Indian prime minister as "the enemy of the Pakistani and Kashmiri people" .

"Unfortunately, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has taken decisions on the bus service and the invitation to Vajpayee without taking the nation into his confidence or considering its feelings or wishes," it said.

And this had "disturbed the true well-wishers of the nation" .

"Entertaining a guest is fine if he belongs to a friendly country," the paper said.

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.



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