NEW DELHI, May 13: Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said on Tuesday that cross-border terrorism should end to create a conducive atmosphere for talks with Pakistan, but stressed that this was no precondition for the peace process he initiated recently.

Mr Vajpayee’s remarks, made to reporters in Manali, were welcomed promptly by a visiting delegation of Pakistani parliamentarians who described him as a man of peace.

“Terrorism should end. Terrorist camps and infrastructure across the border should be dismantled. That will open the door for talks,” Mr Vajpayee said.

According to the Press Trust of India, he was asked if an end to what New Delhi calls cross-border terrorism was a pre- condition for talks with Pakistan. It quoted Mr Vajpayee as responding: “It is not a condition, it is necessary. We are not calling it a pre-condition. But without that (end to cross-border terrorism) how can a conducive atmosphere be created?”

Three members of the 12-member parliamentary delegation from Pakistan, who were in Kolkata on Tuesday, said Mr Vajpayee was the best person to negotiate peace between the two countries.

“I have no doubt that Mr Vajpayee is the best person to solve Indo-Pak hostilities as he is a man of peace and a strong leader,” said PML-Q’s Ishaq Khan Khakwani at a meet-the-press programme.

The meeting was organized under the auspices of the Pakistan- India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy.

“For peace you need a strong leader and we think that Mr Vajpayee is a strong leader. So is our Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali and President Pervez Musharraf,” Mr Khakwani said with the concurrence of his own party colleague M.P. Bhandara and PPP member Shakila Rashid, United News of India reported.

The three MPs criticized the role of Lashkar-i-Taiba and said Pakistan was as much against terrorism as India.

“The Lashkar is under heavy scrutiny in our country. It has killed our men too. How can we support it?” asked Mr Bhandara.

“It is not the two governments who are responsible for the killings but terrorism. People and governments of both countries want peace and friendship but terrorism is the real enemy,” he said.

A second group of the Pakistani MPs, in Mumbai on Tuesday, suggested a union between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh on the lines of the European Union to develop trade.

“This is just a suggestion but it is ultimately for the governments to chalk out modalities for such an initiative,” leader of the delegation in Mumbai, Saleem Jan Mazari, clarified at an interactive session organized by the Indian Merchants’ Chamber.

Mr Vajpayee, responding to a question about Pakistan’s stand that talks should be unconditional, appeared dismissive, saying the word unconditional could be understood differently.

Asked what would happen if terrorism did not end, the prime minister shot back, saying: “It should end”.

He said he had extended the hand of friendship to Pakistan. “Let us see what is their response.”

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