Sunday, Jan 04, 2004
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India & World
By Amit Baruah
Progress may have been achieved on the SAARC agenda, but officials are yet to confirm (even after the positive remarks made by the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to Pakistan Television) whether or not there will be a separate meeting with the Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, and Mr. Vajpayee. The Prime Minister's departure statement spoke of "bilateral meetings" with other SAARC leaders, and interaction with his Pakistani hosts. When this question was put to the Foreign Secretary, Shashank, he said some bilateral meetings had been sought while "thanks" to the media something dramatic was being expected on the India-Pakistan front.
Meetings, he said, could also take place in the context of SAARC or take place to meet the expectations that had been raised among the people of India and Pakistan. "You can have one-on-one meetings with others around," Mr. Shashank said.
Asked if he was optimistic or pessimistic about the prospects of a meeting between Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf, Mr. Shashank maintained that while being optimistic, he could not confirm a specific meeting. According to official sources, India would like to wait and see how Pakistan plays the Kashmir issue in the inaugural, public session of the SAARC summit scheduled for tomorrow morning. In the past, Pakistan has made references to Kashmir and New Delhi wants to wait to see what happens tomorrow.
Asked if Islamabad had given any assurance that it would not raise the Kashmir issue at the summit, Mr. Shashank maintained that consultations always went on, even for the SAARC summit. It was for each country to decide what issue was to be raised.
(At a separate briefing, the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, said, "Wait for the speech" when asked if the remarks to be made by his Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, would address the Kashmir issue). On whether the Prime Minister would call on the Pakistani President as part of planned SAARC events, Mr. Shashank maintained that a decision would be taken based on protocol requirements.
In his briefing, Mr. Kasuri told presspersons that Pakistan was ready for a dialogue with India. The Pakistani Minister stated that there was a strong feeling in both India and Pakistan that they must normalise relations. On the issue of cross-border terrorism, Mr. Kasuri said they should return to the phraseology used in the "Agra draft" that was discussed in July 2001. (The draft was not adopted.)
He also suggested the immediate restoration of the strength of the missions in India and Pakistan (to 110 each) to facilitate the issuing of visas for travel between the two countries.
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