M A I N   N E W S

PM keeps door open for talks
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

Islamabad, January 3
Even as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave ample indications of “interacting with our hosts” and having bilateral meetings with other SAARC leaders, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri reaffirmed the desire of his country’s top leadership for a dialogue with India “any time, any place” by moving away from the existing situation of “no war, no peace.”

It is clear Mr Vajpayee has an open mind about meeting Pakistani leaders on the sidelines of the 12th SAARC Summit which begins here tomorrow. He stressed that the stage is set for the regional grouping achieving significant progress. “While in Islamabad, I will take the opportunity of bilateral meetings with other SAARC leaders besides interacting with our hosts. I hope all discussions — bilateral and regional — would proceed in the spirit of friendship, cooperation and good neighbourliness,” Mr Vajpayee said in Delhi in a departure statement.

The Prime Minister leaving the door ever so slightly ajar for a bilateral with Pakistan has raised hopes. It assumes significance as Mr Vajpayee’s Pakistani counterpart Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali and Mr Kasuri have called for “improving the situation from a no war, no peace one” and resuming the composite dialogue which includes Jammu and Kashmir.

In a PTV interview within hours of his arrival here, Mr Vajpayee said there is need for India and Pakistan to move forward and hold talks in a sustained manner. “Even though J and K is an integral party of India, we have not shied away from discussing it,” he observed. Talks will have to be conducted at its own pace between the two countries. The process is bound to take time as both India and Pakistan have been sticking to their stands on J and K.

Responding to persistent questions at a Press conference, Mr Kasuri, who was speaking in his capacity as the new Chairperson of the SAARC Council of Ministers, maintained he had no knowledge so far of any bilateral between India and Pakistan. “Let’s hope there will be one and it is for the Government of India to decide.”

He shared Mr Jamali’s optimism of having a structured India-Pakistan summit. Mr Kasuri pointed out that Mr Jamali had strived for an Indo-Pak dialogue and any opportunity in this regard will not be missed. “Optimism is what we rely on...” he said.

Foreign Secretary Shashank told mediapersons late at night “history is in the making with landmark achievements and having a new atmosphere in the SAARC grouping which will catapult it in the same league as the sub-regional groupings in Asia, Europe and America.

He disclosed that the Inter-Government Committee of Experts will now start working the operationalisation of SAFTA.

Mr Shanshank said Mr Vajpayee’s bilateral meeting with various SAARC Heads of State or Government is being finalised and interaction with Pakistan leaders will take place on the multilateral SAARC grouping.

Stating that the media had raised the expectations of an Indo-Pak bilateral “very, very high,” Mr Shashank said “I can’t say whether a particular meeting (between Mr Vajpayee and Gen Pervez Musharraf (or Mr Jamali) is on or not.”

Mr Kasuri said the SAARC Council of Ministers concluded its meeting spread over two days and taken some “momentous decisions” for approval by the Heads of State or Government. He listed these as the landmark SAFTA framework agreement, the additional protocol on terrorism and the social charter.

On SAFTA, he disclosed that while non-LDC member states would reduce their tariffs 0-5 per cent in a period of seven years, LDCs would do so in 10 years from January 1, 2006 when SAFTA takes effect. Besides, each member state will be allowed to maintain a sensitive list of products on which tariffs will not be reduced.



Jamali hopeful of summit with Vajpayee
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

Islamabad, January 3
Bilateral talks between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali appeared on the cards before he departs for home at the conclusion of the 12th SAARC summit on January 6.

Mr Jamali said: “India and Pakistan have emerged out of a deadlock and the ice has been broken with a spate of confidence-building measures taken by India and Pakistan. We are in a position to have a dialogue and a structured Indo-Pak summit.”

With Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary and National Security Adviser Mr Brajesh Mishra, keeping a close watch on the developments and India’s High Commissioner to Islamabad Shiv Shankar Menon having had an hour-long meeting with Mr Jamali yesterday, the ground is being set for the bilateral meeting.

Indian sources, however, continue to remain highly guarded about an Indo-Pak bilateral dialogue taking place on the sidelines of the SAARC summit. New Delhi has underlined the need for a step-by-by approach and Mr Vajpayee has maintained that this is his third and final attempt to put the strained Indo-Pak relations on an even keel.

Mr Vajpayee, will no doubt extend the diplomatic courtesies at various gatherings connected with the SAARC summit. The retreat on January 5 at the residence of Mr Jamali will provide an informal setting for the SAARC heads of State or Government to exchange views and go over the roadmap being drawn for giving an impetus to economic and commercial ties in South Asia.

In an interview to The News, Mr Jamali exuded confidence of achieving a breakthrough on vital issues with India. Calling for the resumption of the composite dialogue between the two South Asian neighbours, the host Prime Minister observed “there is a possibility I will have a separate meeting with Mr Vajpayee as the two countries have moved from a dead end to a silver lining.”

Stating that Mr Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad was a very positive development, Mr Jamali expected a “structured Indo-Pak summit. We have achieved some breakthrough and I am hopeful that a breakthrough on ticklish issues will also be achieved this time if all goes according to my assessment.”

Mr Jamali said the ceasefire had proved to be a good omen and had yielded results. “The people are relieved and all want peace. No one wants war.”

He said it depended on India and Pakistan how the two countries moulded themselves in the light of the wishes of the people. On the resolution of the protracted Kashmir issue, Mr Jamali described Mr Vajpayee as a liberal and amiable man. “I feel comfortable holding a dialogue with Mr Vajpayee.” Pakistan desired resolution of the Kashmir problem. “Unless the composite dialogue takes place, the proposals are confined to oneself. One needs to hold talks and no one is ready to disclose his cards before the dialogue is held.”

On cross-border terrorism, the Pakistan Prime Minister said they were not part of terrorism. “We are victims of terrorism and cannot support it,” he added.



India hints at gas pipeline via Pak

Islamabad, January 3
India has evinced interest in trilateral cooperation with Iran and Pakistan to form a common market and hinted that it was ready to import natural gas from Iran via Pakistan if Islamabad changed its attitude towards New Delhi.

External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha told the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry here yesterday that Pakistan could be a vital bridge between Central Asia, the Gulf and India and could derive immense benefits as a transit route.

“If Pakistan can find within itself the strength and wisdom to change its current approach towards India, there are immense benefits that it can derive as a transit route for the movement of energy, goods and people,” Mr Sinha said.

India has persistently rejected the option of importing gas from Iran via Pakistan for security reasons and has instead preferred under-water gas pipeline which is much more costlier.

A gas pipeline from Iran across Pakistan is the cheapest option to import gas into India.

India is importing 50 per cent of our gas from abroad which is going up as energy consumption is rising by five per cent every year.

The second option of a deep-sea pipeline from Iran to India is being given more attention as an estimate of the cost of the project hanging fire from 1994 is being done by Iranian National Oil Company and Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL).

Pointing out that India had concluded a number of Free Trade Agreements with many Asian countries, the External Affairs Minister said that during his recent visit to Iran, he had proposed to Iranian authorities formation of a common market between India, Iran and Pakistan providing new economic opportunities to the people of the three countries.

This partnership could later be extended to include Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Gulf to form “one huge economic market.”

He said that Pakistan, with its unique geographical position at the confluence of the sub-continent, the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, could play the role of an invaluable bridge in connecting an “energy-hungry” India with its booming markets with those of Central Asia, West Asia and the Gulf.

If Pakistan could find within itself the strength and wisdom to change its current approach towards India, it could derive immense benefits as a transit route.

“We could then very well see this entire region rise on the tide of regional cooperation as in the case of ASEAN,” Mr Sinha added. — UNI



India asks Pak to remove curbs on media
V. Mohan Narayan

Islamabad, January 3
Urging Pakistan and Bangladesh to remove the restriction on free flow of Indian media products, New Delhi said today that these "artificial walls" should be broken and suggested formation of South Asia Common Information Space.

"Let us break down these artificial walls. The time has come to end this self-defeating approach. South Asia must rise above such short-sightedness," External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha told the concluding session of the SAARC Journalists Summit in Rawalpindi, organised by the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA).

Observing that Pakistan and Bangladesh continued to restrict free flow of Indian media products, Mr Sinha asked them to consider a change in their policies.

"Indian newspapers, magazines, music, films and television are not going to undermine your societies," he said.

Mr Sinha "strongly recommended" that the seven-nation SAARC should decide and start working, in short-term framework, towards the goal of a South Asian Common Information Space.

Maintaining that there was "a historical baggage of distrust", Mr Sinha, who is here for the SAARC Foreign Ministers' meeting ahead of the Summit, said the "biggest non-tariff barrier we encounter in this process is the suspicion of our minds".

"We are not threatening our respective cultures. We are only limiting opportunities for better understanding amongst ourselves, for our growth," he said. — PTI



Pak denies visa to 5 Indian scribes

Islamabad, January 3
At least five Jammu and Kashmir-based Indian journalists have been denied visas by the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi for the coverage of the SAARC Summit, beginning tomorrow.

Three of them were initially issued visas but subsequently the permission to enable them to visit Pakistan was withdrawn.

The matter was also raised by a Pakistani journalist at the press briefing of Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan last evening. He promised that he would cross-check the matter with the Indian mission in New Delhi.

“This should not have happened. I will have to cross-check with our High Commission,’’ Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan told reporters when this issue was raised by a Pakistani journalist.

“Our visa regime is not restrictive. We have given visas to all mediapersons from all over the world who wanted to cover the summit,’’ he said.

The journalists denied visas included Zafar Minhas of ‘Chattan’ Urdu daily, Nagoka of J & K channel and Rashid of ‘Nada-Mashreq’ Urdy daily.

More than 250 journalists from India have arrived here to cover the January 4-6 summit. — UNI


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