M A I N   N E W S

Indian security cover for Vajpayee in Pak
Foreign Secy downplays bilateral talks
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 27
Foreign Secretary Shashank today said that the forthcoming 12th SAARC summit in Islamabad from January 4 to 6 “will produce at least one or two results”, downplayed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bilateral meetings in Pakistan and declined to answer probing questions regarding the security of Mr Vajpayee in Pakistan.

At his press briefing here on the issue of the summit, Mr Shashank was asked several questions on the security of Mr Vajpayee in the wake of two attempts on the life of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf since December 14. He declined to answer a question whether Indian security personnel would be deployed in Pakistan.

Sources, however, said Islamabad had agreed to the Indian demand for the deployment of Indian security personnel for the security of Mr Vajpayee.

The sources claimed that Mr Vajpayee would be getting in Pakistan a multi-tier and foolproof security on a par with the US President’s security whenever he visits abroad.

The sources declined to tell how many Indian commandos and security personnel would be flying into Pakistan for Mr Vajpayee's security. “All we can say is that the number of our personnel there (in Pakistan) would be substantial and enough,” they said.

The sources said the primary responsibility for Mr Vajpayee’s security would be Islamabad’s though the Indian security personnel would also be involved. They also pointed out that the Pakistani security agencies had assured a foolproof security cover for Mr Vajpayee.

Mr Shashank struck a similar vein when he said President Musharraf had promised “foolproof” security arrangements for Mr Vajpayee and other SAARC leaders in Pakistan. The Foreign Secretary pointed out that General Musharraf had stated that he was the target of the recent terrorist attacks and not the other SAARC leaders.

Though the Foreign Secretary maintained that incidents of terrorism had increased within Pakistan and that the country had become “the epicentre of terrorism all over the world”, he said in the same breath: “But that does not mean the security (of SAARC leaders) cannot be taken care of.”

Mr Shashank, however, played down the possibility of Mr Vajpayee’s bilateral meetings with Pakistani leaders. His terse response to questions on Mr Vajpayee’s meetings with the Pakistani leaders on the margins of the summit was: “No bilateral meeting has been fixed with the Pakistani leaders.”

He said requests had been received from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal for bilateral meetings with Mr Vajpayee, adding that “we are working on them.”

He pointed out that there would be many occasions when the Indian and Pakistani leaders would get together but was cautious to add “in the presence of other SAARC leaders.”

He went on to cite two possibilities—first at Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s residence for the SAARC leaders and the second a dinner to be hosted by President Musharraf in honour of the SAARC leaders.

He, however, made it clear that any formal and composite dialogue with Pakistan was possible only after it stopped cross-border terrorism and dismantled the terrorist infrastructure.

Asked to comment on the reported statement of Defence Minister George Fernandes that there was no let up in cross-border infiltration, he said: “Our feeling is also that cross-border infiltration has not stopped. It has only slowed down because of winter.”

He defended the Indian move of resuming the fencing work along the Line of Control, turning down Pakistan’s objections in this regard and said it was “our operational requirement" and had nothing to do with the ceasefire.

He said India hoped that its concerns on cross-border terrorism and Indian insurgent groups operating in its neighbouring countries would be reflected in the SAARC declaration. “We hope a strong message goes from the SAARC summit on this issue.”

The Foreign Secretary admitted that there were “certain difficulties” in the way of reaching an agreement on the much-awaited draft agreement on the South Asian Free Trade Area(Safta). However, he expressed hope that “SAARC will produce at least one or two results.” He pointed out that though progress had been registered during negotiations on Safta, first at Kathmandu and then in Islamabad in the SAARC Committee of Secretaries, “some problems remain.”

In this connection, a Commerce Ministry official, Mr S. S. Kapoor, said Safta negotiations were on since 1998 and till date the relevant committee had held six meetings. Without mincing words, he said: “Few issues still remain and these are at the core of the agreement.” He informed that if Safta was to be concluded during the upcoming summit, it could be operational from January 1, 2006.


Pak for free trade with  India
K.J.M. Varma

Islamabad, December 27
Pakistan would pursue free trade with India through the SAARC process without compromising on its stance on Kashmir, Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar said today. “You must make a distinction between free trade in regional context and free trade in bilateral context. In principle we stand for free trade,” he told a press conference here when asked whether Pakistan was ready to abandon its previous policy of linking trade with India to progress on the resolution of Kashmir issue.

“Until we are going to come for a final agreement, I cannot say how SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) will be implemented,” he said.

Regarding Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir, he said: “It has been clearly enunciated by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali. We do not see any change in our position on Kashmir.”

Asked whether Pakistan has decided not to raise the Kashmir issue during the forthcoming summit, he said he could recall when Islamabad had raised the Kashmir issue at previous SAARC summits.

To a question whether Kashmir would figure in Mr Jamali’s speech at the summit, he said “The speech is still being drafted. Let’s see whether we can accommodate your request.”

Mr Khokhar said India had not yet indicated its willingness for any bilateral meetings between Mr Vajpayee and President Musharraf or Mr Jamali.

He said, Mr Vajpayee would be joining other leaders at the banquet being hosted by President Musharraf for SAARC leaders on January 4. The banquet would be preceded by a joint call on President Musharraf by the SAARC leaders.

He said one of the focus of the summit would be to finalise a protocol on suppressing terrorism. Asked whether the protocol would also include cooperation to contain cross-border terrorism from Pakistan as charged by India, he said: “There is an agreement already. A protocol is under discussion. — PTI

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