M A I N   N E W S

I’ve come with open mind: Pervez
PM hosts dinner for Musharraf, hands over birth certificate
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

Welcome, says Foreign Minister Natwar Singh as he escorts Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Mrs Sehba Musharraf on their arrival at the Air Force Station, Palam, in New Delhi on Saturday.
Welcome, says Foreign Minister Natwar Singh as he escorts Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Mrs Sehba Musharraf on their arrival at the Air Force Station, Palam, in New Delhi on Saturday. — Tribune photo by Mukesh Aggarwal

New Delhi, April 16
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf arrived here this evening from Ajmer on an informal three-day visit and told the Indian leadership that he had come to India with an “open mind” and had prayed at the Ajmer Sharif dargah for peace and amity between the two countries.

Immediately after his arrival here, External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh called on the dignitary and during the 20-minute meeting President Musharraf told Mr Natwar Singh that there was a “world of difference in atmosphere” between the two countries from his last visit to India in July 2001 and now. The President told the EAM that he was very happy with the atmosphere and favoured further improvement in relations between the two countries.

Significantly, Gen Musharraf said the April 7 launch of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service was a positive development and condemned the “terrorist attacks” aimed at preventing the bus service from starting, Foreign Office spokesman Navtej Sarna told this correspondent. Mr Natwar Singh, on his part, emphasised upon people-to-people contacts between India and Pakistan and underlined the need to carry on and concretise the goodwill generated between the people of the two neighbours.

Shortly after the Musharraf-Natwar meeting, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted dinner in honour of President Musharraf and his wife Sehba. The Prime Minister started off his interaction with Gen Musharraf with a personal Confidence Building Measure (CBM) of sorts: at the dinner he personally handed over to the dignitary the birth certificates of President Musharraf, his sister and brother born in the Girdhar Lal Jain hospital here in the forties.

The Prime Minister, in his banquet speech, attempted to strike a personal chord with General Musharraf when he pointed out that both of them had come to occupy high offices “without lengthy careers in politics”. He said time had come to find an “enduring solution” to all problems between India and Pakistan and, significantly, also added that the two countries must fight terrorism in the region to take forward the dialogue process.

“The peace process and the composite dialogue need to be carried forward with even greater determination. However, in order to take forward and sustain the dialogue process, acts of terrorism must be prevented and we must together fight the scourge of terrorism in our region,” Dr Manmohan Singh said.

President Musharraf, in his arrival statement, said: “The composite dialogue process as well as people-to-people contact in the last 15 months have created a huge constituency of goodwill in both the countries and led to an improved political environment. We need to seize this unique opportunity to address all our bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir dispute.”

The two leaders are to watch the Indo-Pak cricket match at Ferozeshah Kotla ground here tomorrow morning for some time and shortly thereafter plunge into delegation-level and restricted talks at Hyderabad House. The talks are likely to continue for over two hours.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) met for about an hour to discuss Gen Musharraf’s India visit. There was no dissenting voice and the CCS unanimously decided to treat Gen Musharraf as the Most Favoured Guest.

The UPA government is looking at the Musharraf visit as yet another step in the long journey towards peace between the two nations and not as a zero sum game. The government’s approach is that the visit should be seen as a part of the process and not as an event in isolation. In keeping with this spirit, the two sides are working on a Joint Statement to be issued at the end of the talks, though it is not an official visit.

New Delhi has taken note of positive developments and welcome statements emanating from Pakistan before the visit which jell with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s vision in which borders are becoming less and less relevant.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, at his briefing today, described the atmosphere in the Government of India as “informal and relaxed”.

New Delhi has noted with satisfaction Gen Musharaf’s recent statement wherein he stressed on “soft borders” between India and Pakistan, something which jells with similar statements of intent from the Indian leadership.

India is looking at Gen Musharraf’s visit as one which has the potential of paving the way for borders which are hard for terrorists but soft for people, borders with much freer traffic and more efficient transport linkages.



Before emplaning for Delhi via Jaipur and Ajmer, he told mediapersons in Islamabad that he favoured early involvement of the Kashmiri leaders in the talks to resolve the Kashmir issue with the proviso that “we need to see that it suits our counterparts (India). We are looking forward to a friendly and successful visit with constructive and forward looking results.”

* * *

There is palpable excitement all around, be it Ajmer where those overseeing the upkeep of the dargah of Khawja Moinuuddin Chisti hoping that Gen Musharraf’s prayers for peace between the two warring neighbours will end and an era of friendship and good neighbourliness will prevail. Interestingly, the Khadim of Chisti’s Dargah presented a bouquet of flowers symbolising amity and peace rather than the traditional sword which is given to Heads of State visiting Ajmer.

* * *

Meanwhile, the dozen Indian employees of the PIA in Delhi have petitioned General Musharraf that they be reinstated with their seniority duly protected now that flights have resumed between the two countries. They were sacked after PIA suspended flights to India from January 2002 to December 2003. They said in a memorandum to the Pakistan High Commission that justice had been denied to them and appealed to Gen Musharraf to intervene in the matter.



156 Pak fishermen freed

Jamnagar, April 16 
The156 Pakistani fishermen, lodged in Gujarat jails have been released and are being sent to the Wagah border, where they will be handed over to Pakistani authorities. — UNI


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