M A I N   N E W S

Stage set for better relations
Tribune News Service

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee shakes hand with his Pakistani counterpart Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (R) shakes hand with his Pakistani counterpart Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali in Islamabad on Sunday. — Reuters photo

Islamabad, January 4
India guardedly set the stage for improving relations with Pakistan when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called on his host counterpart Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, with the two leaders deciding to maintain the momentum created in their bilateral relations.

Though the Vajpayee-Jamali meeting was described as a courtesy call by the former, the Indian side did not want to create a hype of anything dramatic emerging from the Indo-Pak interaction on the sidelines of the SAARC summit.

Even as Mr Vajpayee “courtesy” meeting with President Pervez Musharraf is fixed tomorrow, External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri also held discussions.

Mr Vajpayee and Mr Jamali had a one-on-one meeting for about 15 minutes and were later joined by the delegations.

Mr Sinha and Mr Kasuri expressed satisfaction with the progress in the Indo-Pak bilateral relations and discussed ways of giving a further impetus to the initiatives taken and the confidence-building measures already in place.

Talking to mediapersons about the Indo-Pak discussions after the inauguration of the 12th SAARC summit here this afternoon, Mr Sinha refused to go into the specifics of the discussions on the plea that India was primarily in Islamabad for the multilateral SAARC summit.

Mr Sinha refused to categorise the Indo-Pak interface as formal. “It is nothing short of ‘shistachar’ (courtesy call).”

He said whenever the Prime Minister went to any country, such courtesy calls always took place.

Asked if an invitation had been extended to Mr Jamali to visit India soon, Mr Sinha made it clear “this did not figure in the talks either at the level of the Prime Ministers or the Foreign Ministers.”

Emerging from his meeting with Mr Sinha, Mr Kasuri said they discussed regional and international issues. “I have established a rapport with Mr Sinha and hope it will go a long way in improving ties with India,” Mr Kasuri added.

Mr Sinha refused to categorise the “courtesy call” as an “official dialogue” between the two countries. Mr Vajpayee specially took the opportunity of thanking Mr Jamali for the warm welcome extended to India and the excellent arrangements for the SAARC summit.

Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson Masood Khan ruled out any structured summit or resumption of Indo-Pakistan dialogue for the present. He told mediapersons that if the statements on the courtesy calls made by Mr Vajpayee and Mr Sinha were identical, scribes were free to “read between the lines.”

PTI adds: In characteristic remarks, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf tonight called for amendment to the SAARC charter to discuss bilateral issues among member countries but refrained from directly mentioning Jammu and Kashmir.

Speaking at a banquet he hosted for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other SAARC leaders at the Presidential House here, Musharraf emphasised “we must expand the SAARC charter to discuss bilateral issues at regional level. If we fail, cynicism will take over”.


Islamabad Diary
Vajpayee talks of First War of Independence
T. R. Ramachandran

External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha with his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mohamood Kasuri at the inaugural function of 12th SAARC summit in Islamabad on Sunday.
External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha with his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mohamood Kasuri at the inaugural function of 12th SAARC summit in Islamabad on Sunday. — PTI photo

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee virtually carried the day at the inauguration of the 12th SAARC summit at the imposing and decked up Convention Centre in Islamabad. His statesmanship drew laud applause from the assemblage, including the other Heads of State or Government seated on the flower-bedecked dias. Vajpayee talked about his visit to Andaman Islands not very long ago where during the colonial days political prisoners were kept in confinement. On the inscriptions in the Cellular Jail he found many names of brave martyrs and freedom fighters from what are three South Asian countries today.

“Our forefathers fought side by side, transcending religious, regional and linguistic differences against a common colonial oppressor in our First War of Independence in 1857. It reminds us that many of us have a shared history which pre-dates our more recent divisions.”

He invited Pakistan and Bangladesh to take part in the 150th anniversary celebrations of that uprising. “Perhaps Pakistan, India and Bangladesh can together celebrate that anniversary in remembrance of our joint struggle against a common adversary,” he suggested.

* * *

Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali, who assumed the chairmanship of the SAARC grouping from Nepal, thanked Vajpayee for his important statement. He said Vajpayee not only has respect for the poor,” he is a visionary, a poet, writer and able politician. All these are qualities of a true leader.”

* * *

As expected, there was tremendous anticipation in the Pakistan media that something dramatic is going to emerge from the “bilaterals” talks between the two neighbours on the sidelines of the SAARC summit. The buzz is that with 2004 being the year of general elections and if Vajpayee can achieve some tangible movement in overcoming the strained Indo-Pak relations, it will do the BJP and the NDA a world of good.

At the same time, there are those in Pakistan highly cut up that India has not been on cloud nine with Pakistan expressing its desire to resume the dialogue with India “at any place, any time. “Asked how can India just forget or brush aside being consistently stabbed in back? There is consternation and a somewhat tired response “let bygones be bygones and let’s move forward.” The question on everyone’s lips is “What is Mr Brajesh Mishra doing here? Is he easily approachable.”

* * *

Vajpayee, who is staying at the Serena Hotel which is a stone’s throw away from the Convention Centre, has preferred driving in this capital city ringed by the Margala hills. On his arrival on Saturday, Vajpayee had the option of travelling to the hotel by helicopter which was standing by due to security considerations. Vajpayee, however, decided to take the road route. The area where the Prime Minister is staying falls in the red zone which is cordoned off. All the offices in this zone have been directed to remain closed till the conclusion of the SAARC summit on January 6.

* * *

There is a no-holds barred TV war on between the state-owned Pakistan TV and Geo private channel. Clearly PTV was one up on Geo TV when it secured the interview with Atal Behari Vajpayee and also aired a discussion with Indian scribes on the emerging contours of India-Pak relations which has remained strained to put it mildly.

To counter PTV, the Geo network aired live a late night hour-long discussion on the prospects of bilateral relations improving with known India baiters on the programme. That hardly gave the two Indian woman scribes a fair chance to even have their say edgeway. 

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