ISLAMABAD, March 1: India's two top Communist party leaders and the Congress government's coalition partners gave an emphatic vote of confidence to President Pervez Musharraf's commitment to peace with India after their 60-minute interaction with him on Tuesday.

The general-secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Harkishan Singh Surjeet, and CPI general-secretary A.B. Bardhan, who are here on the invitation of Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, had met the president for the first time.

The two veteran leaders, who are accompanied by two other party members, were visibly charmed by President Musharraf. Speaking at a lunch hosted in their honour by Mr Kasuri, they said that during their meeting with the president they had discussed all aspects of the composite dialogue and assured him of their support for the peace process.

Mr Surjeet said they had a frank discussion with the president and were happy that he did not hide any facts. Both the leaders appreciated President Musharraf's frankness and acknowledged his sincerity and commitment to taking the peace process forward.

Mr Bardhan seemed convinced that if President Musharraf wanted settlement of issues, it would happen. "We have been impressed by his courage as a leader of a country, not courage of a general," declared the CPI general-secretary.

He was particularly pleased at the fact that when he raised the issue of releasing some 200 Indian civilian prisoners in Pakistani jails, the president right then gestured to one of the aides to set them free.

"I hope the foreign ministry and the interior ministry will also follow the same example," Mr Bardhan said with a smile. When he was asked if in the same spirit the Communist Party would impress upon the Indian government to release hundreds of innocent Kashmiris languishing in the Indian jails and reduce troops in the Valley, he chose not to answer the question.

The CPI leader said he had also discussed the Baglihar dam issue with the president and proposed that the two countries should try to settle the dispute bilaterally even if the matter had been referred to the World Bank.

However, he added, the president remained non-committal on this question. He said the president had conveyed to them that he was keen to resolve all issues in his term and in their lifetime. President Musharraf said he did not want to go down in history as a man who failed, but rather one who made history, Mr Bardhan said.

The CPI leader expressed satisfaction over the pace of the peace process and said he believed it had accelerated. Asked if he thought President Musharraf was the right leader to settle the issues, he snapped back: "Does he require my certificate?"

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