Friday, August 23, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

PM to attend SAARC summit in Pak

Kathmandu, August 22
Despite the high level of Indo-Pak border tension, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will travel to Islamabad next January to attend the SAARC summit, demonstrating India’s commitment to the growth of the seven-member grouping.

The way for the Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan was paved by the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting, which decided to convene the annual summit between January 5 and 20, 2003. The exact date would be decided later after consultations with member countries.

The foreign ministers’ decision on the summit gives a lie to the Pakistani propaganda that New Delhi was trying to scuttle holding of the summit in Islamabad.

External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, who represented India at the meeting, suggested that the summit be held every year in January. He said there was no need to debate on dates of the summit every year.

Referring to Pakistan Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Inam-ul-Haq’s allegation that India might delay the SAARC summit, Mr Sinha said confusion was deliberately being created about India’s views on this issue.

Without the participation of any Head of Government or State of a member country the summit cannot take place.

The foreign ministers of the 7-member regional grouping also decided that the summit thereafter should be held on a fixed date each year in January.

Drawing a clear distinction between SAARC and bilateral issues, External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha sought to dispel apprehensions that tension between the two countries would stymie progress of the regional grouping.

Asked whether Mr Vajpayee would undertake the trip to Islamabad, if the current Indo-Pak tensions persisted, Mr Sinha said, “We must distinguish between SAARC and Indo-Pak relations.”

“Here, we are discussing issues of common concern and common interest to all the countries in the SAARC region. As we have done here, you keep India and Pakistan out of it,” he stressed.

“Will the UN General Assembly session not be held because there is a situation between India and Pakistan? We will both be there. Similarly, we can be there anywhere in the world, including in South Asia, and not allow, with a little wisdom on our part, to let bilateral issues cloud the SAARC process,” he said.

Mr Sinha said, “India is fully committed to the SAARC process. We want SAARC to prosper and become a powerful instrument of regional cooperation. It has been our endeavour not to allow bilateral contentious issues to thwart or cloud the SAARC process.”

He said no bilateral contentious issues were raised at the meeting of the council of ministers.

Besides India, SAARC consists of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal. UNI, PTI


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