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Pervez leaves Pranab red-faced

Pervez leaves Pranab red-faced

Author: Ranjan Roy
Publication: The Times of India
Date: January 14, 2007
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1173585.cms

Introduction: Gen refuses to visit Delhi, India Redirects Saarc invite to Pak PM

The ostensible reason for external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee's first visit to Islamabad was to hand over an invitation to Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf to attend the Saarc summit in New Delhi in April. But just ahead of his landing, Islamabad told Indian diplomats Musharraf wouldn't travel to New Delhi because it was now Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's turn to visit.

Mukherjee made his first stop on the two-day trip at Musharraf's office for a 70-minute meeting with the military dictator, but with Islamabad standing on ceremony, the invitation was hurriedly redirected to Pakistan prime minister Shaukat Aziz.

Indian officials tried to downplay the flap and made it appear to be a routine logistical rearrangement. But it was clear they were taken off guard.

Foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon later said it was up to the country to decide who would represent it. "When we consulted the Pakistan government, they suggested the PM," he said. "Both heads of state and government can attend and Pakistan had earlier sent prime ministers to Saarc."

Musharraf had last visited India in August 2005 and Islamabad had been keen for Manmohan Singh to visit Islamabad. On Saturday, Mukherjee said the PM had accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan but no date had been set.

Despite the possibility of some frostiness because of Musharraf's refusal to attend Saarc, where heads of government attend, Mukherjee said he had made substantial progress in speeding up the thaw between the two countries. After a nearly two-hour meeting with foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri, the two didn't issue any joint statement, but told reporters some important decisions had been taken.

These included scheduling the fourth round of composite dialogue for March 13-14 and setting up a committee of retired judges from both nations to visit jails and review if prisoners were being held unfairly.

Mukherjee also said the two countries had covered much ground on resolving the Siachen issue that is bedevilled over authenticating troop positions along the disputed frontier.

Khurshid said Pakistan was ready to meet Indian concerns on determining troop positions and the matter could be resolved soon. "Given political will, it can be resolved in days."

Mukherjee said the joint anti-terror mechanism, mooted at a meeting between Singh and Musharraf in Havana last year, would be activated and ministers would instruct officials of both sides to decide on the composition and hold its meeting latest by March.

Also, Indian and Pakistani diplomats won't be restricted to Islamabad and New Delhi respectively. Soon, Indian diplomats will be allowed to travel to Taxila and Hasan Abdal and Pakistani diplomats to Noida and Gurgaon.

Mukherjee said Kasuri would visit New Delhi in February to sign a slew of agreements, including ones on reducing risk of accidents relating to nuclear weapons, speedy return of inadvertent border crossers and prevention of incidents at sea.

The two governments would also work to liberalise visas and ensure that families of prisoners of war from 1971 could visit jails in Pakistan to determine if their relatives, presumed missing or held, were actually there.

Mukherjee said Afghanistan would join Saarc as the eighth member at the April meet, which will be attended by observers from Japan, US and UK.

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