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|February 20, 1999||
Pak military chiefs boycott Wagah welcome
George Iype in Lahore
Even as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief rolled out the red carpet for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Pakistani military establishment refused to participate in the historic ceremony at the Wagah border.
Following serious differences with Sharief over his decision to welcome Vajpayee with such enthusiasm, the three service chiefs boycotted the ceremony in honour of the Indian prime minister.
Reports said General Parvez Musharraf, Air Chief Marshal Parvez Mehdi and Admiral Fasih Bokhari protested that the government should not "welcome an enemy nation in this manner".
They also told Sharief their presence at Wagah would send out wrong signals and jeopardise the prestige, dignity and honour of the Pakistani armed forces.
Though Sharief invited the defence chiefs to join him in welcoming Vajpayee at Wagah, they politely declined to travel to the border.
The military establishment also argued that the three chiefs were duty-bound to attend a banquet hosted by Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz in honour of visiting Chinese Defence Minister Chi Haotian.
The military establishment's opinion is that Chi's visit is more important than Vajpayee's bus trip.
As Sharief is keen not to send out any wrong signals to the Chinese defence delegation, Aziz too is joining the talks with the Indian delegation only tomorrow.
Pakistan is expected to tie up an agreement to buy more conventional arms from China, including fighter planes.
Officials said the three chiefs are normally present at the arrival ceremonies hosted for foreign dignitaries. The visiting VVIPs are introduced to them by the prime minister himself. Clad in full military regalia, the chiefs are also supposed to salute the foreign dignitary and shake hands with him.
Officials here attribute much significance to their absence at Wagah. Many believe the military chiefs did not want to salute "the head of government of an enemy country", and one belonging to the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party at that.
A Pakistan information ministry officer, however, told Rediff On The NeT that the armed forces chiefs are not "duty-bound to come to the border to receive the Indian prime minister".
"The Indian prime minister is coming on a goodwill mission. The military establishment is in no way associated with the political dialogue that is taking place," he argued.
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