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Islamabad Diary
Pak PM’S kudos for Natwar
By Rajeev Sharma

It was unexpected praise from unexpected quarters for External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh. When the EAM called on Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz this morning, the latter welcomed him warmly and said: “Hello, Mr Foreign Minister. How are you. You were looking great and relaxed yesterday on the TV.” Mr Aziz was referring to Mr Natwar Singh’s arrival statement which dominated the air waves in Pakistan. The two leaders showed a lot of synergy during their talks. Incidentally, during his to-the-point arrival statement, Mr Natwar Singh read out a one-page text and the only departure he made from this text was when he said at the end: “I will not take any questions.”

Today also, Mr Natwar Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri avoided journalists’ questions like plague when they refused to take any question after their appearance at a joint press opportunity.

Nitty-gritty of bus service
How will the documentation be done for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service? This must be the most important question on the minds of Kashmiris on either side of the Line of Control. While full details are yet to be worked out, here are a few crumbs of information.

Passports will not be necessary for this particular route which means that an Indian or a Pakistani or a Kashmiri does not have a passport can travel across the LoC. Anyone desiring to travel by this bus would have to fill up a form (which will read like columns in a passport application form) and after the form is submitted to the authorities of the other side, the verification process will start. The verification should be over in one or two weeks. After this, the applicant would be told about the status of his or her application.

The applicant, whose application is cleared, would be told to collect the necessary documents from the checkpoint at the LoC for performing the journey. What is not clear as of now is whether the applicant will be allowed to first board the bus and then collect the necessary papers from the LoC checkpoint or whether prior collection of this document from the checkpoint would be required. Effort from the MEA would be to spare the travellers the inconvenience the second scenario will entail.

Baglihar talks to revive?
Baglihar project in J&K may well not be a ghost long dead and buried. It may resurface in the shape of talks — whether official or back-channel. Indications to this effect were available today when the issue came up for focussed discussion between the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan. India may be more than amenable to accommodate Pakistani concerns on the height of the dam at the project site. Pakistan, too, would have a reason to go for some settlement. There seems to be an impression gaining ground here that Pakistan has burnt its fingers with the Kashmiris by approaching the World Bank on the power which would generate 450 MW of electricity after it is completed in December 2006.

Indo-Pak bonhomie
Yesterday morning at around 9 am it became apparent to Mr Natwar Singh and his team of officials that he may not be able to go to Kabul at all because it was snowing there heavily and the airport had been closed. Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner Munawwar Bhatti was also present at the Palam Air Force Station Technical Area to see off the Minister when he was tossed a question from the Indian side: would Islamabad agree to receive the EAM more than six hours ahead of schedule. After consulting Islamabad, Mr Bhatti, who was functioning as the Charge D’ Affaires at that point of time, confirmed to the Indians that Pakistan would be pleased to receive Mr Natwar Singh ahead of schedule. It was another matter that the Pakistani raincheck was not encashed by the Indians because the weather cleared up in Kabul and the Minister went ahead with the Kabul visit.

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