M A I N   N E W S

PM ends US visit
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New York, September 26
Wrapping up his “highly successful” visit to Britain and the USA, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today left for Geneva on his way back home.

After a stopover in Geneva, he will return home tomorrow night after a nine-day visit to Britain and the USA where he also attended the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting.

This was the PM’s first major diplomatic foray, outside Asia, after assuming the office. It was described by top officials as “very productive”.

The Prime Minister met Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for the first time here on Thursday. The mood in the Indian camp swung from optimism to apprehension.

The successful progress of the Indo-Pak composite dialogue had generated considerable hope that this high-level meeting would yield some positive results. On the other hand, memories of Agra and Mr Musharraf’s reputation as a hardliner were constant reminders of how things could go wrong.

If there were any lingering doubts about the Pakistani Premier’s desire to move ahead with the peace process, these were laid to rest during the one-hour one-to-one meeting between Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Musharraf. It was most definitely a different Musharraf that Indians encountered this time round.

The old swagger and smirk were missing, so was the tough talk which has become the hallmark of the General’s persona. Instead, the General came cross as a statesman, a master PRO and a realist, who has now grasped the ground realities and is willing to give peace a chance.

This was evident from President Musharraf’s conciliatory speech at the UN General Assembly and, more so, at his meeting with Dr Manmohan Singh. The two leaders established a quick and easy rapport, as a result of which their conversation (without aides or note-takers) stretched up to an hour.

Dr Manmohan Singh, according to well-informed sources, lay down the ground rules at the very outset itself. He is learnt to have told him emphatically that his government, or, for that matter any government in India, would not be able to make territorial adjustments in Kashmir.

At the same time, he drew the President’s attention to the January 6 joint statement in which Pakistan specifically mentioned it would not allow its territories to be used for terrorist activities.

Mr Musharraf, on his part, appreciated India’s concern in this regards and said he was doing his best to control cross-border terrorism but, he too, had his internal compulsions.

After placing these two issues on the table, the two leaders then began discussions on the draft of the joint statement. Though brought by the President, it was the product of backroom negotiations which preceded the meeting. Given the mood on both sides, the effort was to move away from their respective maximilist positions and strive for middle ground.

Consequently, the two sides attempted to meet each other half-way. If Pakistan was willing to forgo the references to the will of the Kashmiri people and fixing a timeframe for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, India settled for an oblique reference to the issue of cross-border terrorism.

It confined itself to a mention of the January 6 statement, which is clear on this issue. Similarly, from the Pakistani side, India’s willingness to discuss all options on Kashmir was seen to be an acknowledgement by New Delhi that Kashmir is a dispute between the two countries.

The specific mention of the Iran gas pipeline to India via Pakistan and the need for expanding economic ties between the two countries was also a case of meeting midway and described by officials as both symbolic and substantive.

While New Delhi put aside its earlier security concerns the statement also suggests that Pakistan is willing to focus on economic ties without insisting that the Kashmir issue be settled first.

Although the Opposition back home has been quick to pan the joint statement, officials involved with the talks maintained there has been a sea change in the relationship between the two countries.

On the contrary, they said, this progress had proved the sceptics wrong who were insistent that the UPA government would not be able to make any progress on the complex issue of Indo-Pak relations.

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