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Sworn enemies search for peace

Josy Joseph in New Delhi | February 16, 2004 20:48 IST

During one of their last official meetings Arun Kumar Singh had summoned Jalil Abbas Jilani and called him a 'conspirator and financier of terrorism' asking him to leave India.

This was months after the December 13, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament. Jilani then was Pakistan's number two man in New Delhi and its charge de affaires.

Today when Singh, joint secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, shook hands with Jilani, now director general of the South Asian desk of Pakistan's foreign ministry, it was for the cause of peace.

The two officials, heading each side's delegation at the historic consultations for the two-day talks in Islambad, which started on Monday, are well versed and have long been deeply involved in the Indo-Pak conflict.

Their deep personal knowledge of the affairs of the region and its eccentricities also gives hope of a pragmatic, impersonal and visionary approach towards overcoming half century of wars, threats and pessimism.

Singh, an Indian Foreign Service officer of 1979 batch, has been in the thick of Indo-Pak action for some years now, mostly silently pushing files, words and decisions from behind his desk.

It was during the disastrous Agra summit that the low-profile Singh got a real feel of the bilateral relations. He was joint secretary-designate of the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk when the two sides came tantalisingly close to a major breakthrough during the Agra summit.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf angrily rushed back home, terrorists came back to hit Parliament, Srinagar assembly and elsewhere. From then on Singh has been in the thick of it.

He was the one to summoning Pakistani mission's deputy chief, Abbas Jilani, to ask the country to call back its high commissioner in the wake of the Parliament attack.

Then one day, when the Delhi police and intelligence sleuths claimed that they had arrested a Kashmiri woman and her accomplices who had received money from Jilani for staging terrorist attacks in Kashmir, Singh was the one to tell Jilani to go back home.

For all the drama that surrounded Jilani, he is back. "Jilani is an affable career diplomat who could overcome the inhibitions of an official," says an Indian diplomat.

Journalists in Delhi are also unanimous in the view that he is much more affable and friendly than most diplomats from Pakistan.

Jilani and Russian speaking Singh would by Tuesday evening hope to put in place the broader framework of the composite dialogue, this time putting in a place a process to institutionalise nuclear war risk reduction.

It was in 1997-98 that the two sides first put in place a composite dialogue process, where eight sectors were identified for expert level discussions. The consultations, however, broke down in the wake of nuclear tests.

On Wednesday Indian Foreign Secretary Shahank and his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Khokhar would sit down to review the decisions taken by Singh and Jilani.

Khokhar is no stranger to Indo-Pak dealings. Till 1997 he was the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi, and a high profile one at that.

Shashank, low profile but reflecting Atal Bihari Vajpayee's optimism, was last posted in Pakistan in 1986.

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