M A I N   N E W S

Pervez promises end to terror
Composite talks in February
T. R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

Islamabad, January 6
The cautious optimism of taking Indo-Pak relations out of the vicious cycle of acrimony and intense distrust found a measured response without the attending hype with both sides agreeing to “commence the composite dialogue in February 2004.”

It is after a gap of four years that the composite dialogue between the two countries will be resumed with President Pervez Musharraf assuring Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that “Pakistan will not permit any territory under its control to be used to support terrorism in any manner.”

While emphasising that a sustained and productive dialogue addressing all issues would lead to positive results, the two leaders agreed that “constructive dialogue would promote progress towards the common objective of peace, security and economic development for our peoples for future generations.”

The joint statement of taking the normalisation process between India and Pakistan forward was announced for the two countries here this afternoon after the conclusion of the 12th SAARC Summit by their foreign ministers, Mr Yashwant Sinha and Mr Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri.

Mr Sinha and his Pakistani counterpart refused to go beyond the joint statement, maintaining that “it is a win, win situation not only for both India and Pakistan but also for the entire region of South Asia.”

Responding to questions if India has been convinced about Pakistan dismantling the infrastructure for terrorists as a pre-requisite for talks, Mr Sinha time and again referred to the joint statement and observed there was nothing ambiguous in the wording which is self-explanatory.

He said the level and other modalities for resuming the composite dialogue, including Jammu and Kashmir, would be decided later.

Without sounding a discordant note, Mr Kasuri insisted that the restart of the composite dialogue “is not a victory for either India or Pakistan, but for the SAARC leaders and the entire region. It reflects the statesmanship of the leaders and the people of India and Pakistan, particularly the poor people of South Asia. SAARC had been hijacked by Indo-Pak relations because of which this region has been left behind compared to the rest of the world.”

Mr Sinha and Mr Kasuri made the joint statement separately and their response to ticklish questions was the same that they would not like to offer any comment beyond the joint statement. Both the foreign ministers said the joint statement was aimed at promoting peace, progress, security and economic development in South Asia.

Mr Kasuri said that Pakistan was interested in durable peace in the subcontinent and wondered if there could be durable peace if the aspirations of the Kashmiris were ignored.

The National Security Adviser and Mr Vajpayee’s Principal Secretary, Mr Brajesh Mishra, who had accompanied Mr Sinha for the interface with mediapersons, categorically denied reports that he had met Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence chief Ehsan-ul-Haq. He explained he had come in advance to Islamabad and met several people to tie up the loose ends. “It is not for me to disclose the names but if hosts Pakistan want to, they are free to do so.”

Earlier, Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, while addressing the customary press conference after the conclusion of the SAARC Summit, said to a pointed question that he did not find anything wrong in someone (read Mr Mishra) meeting people in Pakistan in pursuit of their national interests.”


Sees dawn of a new beginning
Tribune News Service

Islamabad, January 6
In a dramatic change of atmospherics, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf sang the song of peace which he categorised as essential now that both have “taken a big leap forward, which must be sustained. A good beginning has been made.”

Asserting that solutions to contentious issues have not been discussed, he said “it is better to move forward harmoniously with trust, sincerity, flexibility and hard work.” General Musharraf was speaking at a press conference here this evening.

He did not hedge in discussing the K-word, saying that the wishes of the people of Kashmir cannot be overlooked in finding a solution to this protracted problem.

“Let the talk process start and we have to move forward by strengthening our complementaries and convergences rather than dwelling on divergences,” the President said. He dismissed the suggestion that the deal between India and Pakistan was struck due to the persuasion of the US. "There was no room for any outside force.”

General Musharraf did not hedge from acknowledging that he would take the Kashmiris into confidence on the intent of the two countries enunciated in the joint statement to restart the stalled composite dialogue after a gap of four years. He attributed the changed environment to the desire of the leaders and the people of India and Pakistan for strengthening the forces of peace for South Asia and the one-fifth of humankind that lived in this region.

“No time frame has been fixed for the culmination of the composite dialogue," though he and Mr Vajpayee agreed over the telephone this morning that the agenda and modalities should be finalised by the end of February and then move as fast as possible.

The General assured that extremism and terrorism in Pakistan would be curbed and dealt with a heavy hand. He could blow a whistle and stop what was in Pakistan’s control, like the ceasefire on the Line of Control, but Islamabad had no control over the terrorist violence in J and K.

On the sidelines of the SAARC Summit, India and Pakistan clearly did some intense homework in breaking the ice and have endeavoured to keep the hype down which has invariably botched efforts in bringing about a thaw in the blow hot, blow cold Indo-Pak relations.

At the customary press conference after the curtain was rung down on the SAARC Summit, Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali noted that the Indo-Pak irritants of the past would be set aside.

“The irritants will be set aside and talks will be undertaken keeping in the mind the region as a whole and not as individual states,” Mr Jamali said. “The first step in this direction is not far and the approach is positive.”

He disclosed that during his talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee yesterday he had specifically taken up the issue of an Iran-India gas pipeline through Pakistan.

“We have not opposed the idea. I have told him (Mr Vajpayee) humbly to please look into the matter as India requires the gas much more than Pakistan. The ball is now in India’s court.”

Without making any specific reference to the “core issue” of Kashmir, he had no doubt that both Pakistan and India would be positive this time.

Though the ground rules for the press conference was to focus on SAARC, the questions were predominantly on Indo-Pak relations, which had hijacked the agenda of the grouping so far. He refused to go into the specifics of the meeting between General Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee.

To a question if he would be visiting India soon and had received an invitation, Mr Jamali said he would be doing that “whenever I am asked to do so." In any case, as the new Chairperson of the SAARC grouping he proposed visiting all the seven member countries in due course.

On combating terrorism, Mr Jamali said people desired peace and the menace was being felt internationally.

“All of us have to worry about it,” even if there are differences on its definition because Pakistan characterises cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as a movement by freedom fighters.

Mr Jamali refused to go into the new dictionary meaning of a courtesy call in the wake of Mr Vajpayee’s meeting with Gen Musharraf lasting nearly 65 minutes. He said may be the higher you went, the longer the courtesy calls lasted. — TRR


SAARC summit vows to combat terrorism
Tribune News Service

Islamabad, January 6
The 12th SAARC summit renewed its commitment to combat the menace of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations as it affected the security, stability and development of the region coupled with envisioning South Asia as a peaceful and stable region where conflicts, differences and disputes are addressed through peaceful dialogue.

The 43-para Islamabad Declaration adopted at the conclusion of the three-day summit refrained from going into the contentious matter of the definition of terrorism, having left the matter to the individual member states.

Mindful of the security concerns of the small states, the participants resolved that their vulnerabilities should be firmly addressed by scrupulous adherence to the UN Charter, rules of international law and strict adherence to the principles and norms of sovereign rights and territorial integrity of all states. “This should be ensured by all, both separately and collectively, through appropriate actions,” the Declaration stressed.

Noting that the people of South Asia continue to face a serious threat from terrorism, the Declaration observed, “We are convinced that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is a challenge to all states and humanity and cannot be justified on any grounds whatsoever.

Terrorism violates the fundamental values of the United Nations and the SAARC Charter, and constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security. We agree to fully implement the relevant international conventions to which we are parties.”

The additional protocol on terrorism signed by the group’s foreign ministers to deal effectively with financing of terrorism is a “further manifestation of our determination to eliminate all forms and manifestations of terrorism from South Asia.”

The Declaration seeks to give a push to socio-economic growth by creating an “inclusive, just and equitable partnership for peace, development and prosperity.”

Describing the signing of the framework agreement on SAFTA as a “major milestone,” the Declaration said the equitable distribution of benefits of trade through enlarged economic cooperation must cater to the special needs of the small and LDC members states.

The Declaration focused on economic cooperation, poverty alleviation, the Social Charter, combating terrorism, science and technology, information and communication, sub and inter-regional cooperation, enhancing political cooperation and security of small states.

Reiterating the commitment for the creation of a South-Asian economic union, the Declaration observed, “We underline that creation of a suitable political and economic environment would be conducive to the realisation of this objective.” It said on Pakistan’s proposal that a study on creating a South-Asian energy cooperation, including the concept of an energy ring should be undertaken by the working group on energy.

With Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee taking the lead, the participants also underlined the need to strengthen transportation, transit and communication links across the region for accelerated and balanced economic growth.

Similarly, the Declaration called for harmonising customs procedures, giving a fillip to tourism in South Asia and SAARC members safeguarding their collective interests in multilateral forums.

On poverty alleviation, the Declaration exhorted the SAARC Secretariat to periodically update and submit regional poverty profiles and make investment in human resources.

The SAARC Social Charter, which was initialled by the Heads of State and Government on the opening day of the summit on January 4, covers issues like population stabilisation, empowerment of women, youth mobilisation, human resource development, promotion of health and nutrition and protection of children.

Even as 2004 is being celebrated as the “SAARC Awareness Year,” the Declaration welcomed the institution of a SAARC award as proposed by Nepal. The award, to be presented in future summits, will honour and encourage outstanding individuals and organisations within the region in the fields of peace, development, poverty alleviation and other areas of regional cooperation.

Earlier, in ringing down the curtain on the SAARC Summit, the new chairperson of the SAARC grouping and Pakistan Prime Minister, Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali, described the outcome as “historic and momentous.” The Islamabad Declaration and the agreements on SAFTA and additional protocol on terrorism have paved the way for good understanding, meaningful cooperation and giving a push to socio-economic development. — TRR


When Pak media was stumped
T.R. Ramachandran

The Pakistani media was stumped when India and Pakistan announced in a joint statement in Islamabad today that the two had decided to restart the stalled composite dialogue in February. The Indian mediapersons who had converged in the Pakistani capital for the 12th SAARC summit had an inkling that the ice had been broken, though External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and others preferred to keep things on a low key. Even this afternoon while addressing the media Mr Sinha did not want to be unduly ecstatic about a breakthrough that the India and Pakistan relations would change in the overall interest of peace, security and stability for troubled South Asia.

* * *

National Security Adviser and Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra made a rare appearance before the media along with Mr Sinha to put the record straight. It was as expected when Mr Mishra acknowledged that he had come well in advance for meetings to tie up the loose ends.

He denied having met ISI chief Ehsan ul Haq, though several others in the track-two efforts, including former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Niaz A. Naik, said meetings had taken place to address India’s security concerns, especially cross-border terrorism. And Mr Mishra acknowledged that he had indeed met several persons in Islamabad. He refused to divulge their names on the ground that it would not be proper for him to do so. However, if Pakistan wanted to disclose who all he had met, Mr Mishra said it was up to them.

* * *

Pakistan Prime Minister and new Chairperson of SAARC made a minor slip while conducting the concluding session of the summit. He told the other Heads of State and Government that they would all have to stand up briefly and watch the Foreign Ministers of the regional grouping sign the agreements on SAFTA and the protocol on terrorism. No sooner than the Foreign Ministers had signed the first document providing the framework for SAFTA that Mr Jamali and the other six leaders stood up, clapped and sat down. The SAARC Chairperson was quietly reminded that the Foreign Ministers had to sign one more document. And Mr Jamali was heard telling softly over the microphone that “never mind we will all clap again” and the Heads of State or Government went through the motions of an encore.

* * *

Indian prisoners languishing in Pakistani jails are hoping Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will make efforts to end their agony. This issue was also posed to External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and his Pakistani counterpart Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri. Mr Sinha said India was aware that a large number of Indians were languishing in Pakistani jails even after they had finished their terms.

* * *

Mr Vajpayee will watch a special play by a Pakistani theatre group in New Delhi later this month. Reports in the Pakistani media said Mr Vajpayee had assured the director of a theatre group that he would definitely watch the play in Delhi if he had the time. Ajoka, the Pakistani theatre group is expected to put up a three-day show of “Bullah” in Delhi from January 19 to 21. The theatre group is expected to visit eight other cities, including Amritsar.

Next SAARC Summit in Dhaka

Islamabad, January 6
Bangladesh will host the next SAARC Summit in the first half of January, 2005.

The decision to hold the next summit in Dhaka was taken by SAARC Heads of State and Government, who concluded their meeting here today. — UNI

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