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Vajpayee, Musharraf to continue peace process

M K Razdan in Islamabad | January 05, 2004 18:10 IST
Last Updated: January 05, 2004 19:18 IST

Prime Minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf on Monday ended their two-year long silence at a meeting on Monday from which they emerged after committing themselves to continue the process of normalisation of ties.

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The hour-long meeting, who had last held a substantive dialogue at the failed Agra Summit in July 2001, sets in motion a formal process of discussing outstanding bilateral issues. It also raised the prospects of new confidence building measures beyond the recent restoration of travel links.

As at their brief interaction at the Presidential banquet on Sunday night, Musharraf warmly greeted Vajpayee on Monday with a firm handshake before the two posed for pictures. Throughout their meeting, the two leaders were assisted by their foreign ministers and other top officials.

After endless speculation on whether there would be bilateral discussions on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit, India and Pakistan actually talked at various levels overshadowing the summit itself. Vajpayee has met his Pakistani counterpart Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Sinha met Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri on Sunday while Foreign Secretary Shashank met his counterpart Riyaz Khokhar on Monday.

The Indian side, which maintained that Vajpayee's meeting with Musharraf at the sprawling Presidential House in Islamabad was a 'courtesy call', was reticent in giving details. But it say that the prime minister's visit to Islamabad for the SAARC Summit, his meetings with the Pakistani leadership and the parleys at other levels during the last two days, represented 'progress' in Indo-Pak ties.

"Both the leaders welcomed the recent steps towards normalisation of bilateral ties and expressed the hope that the process would continue," External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha told a crowded press briefing at which he refused to answer persistent queries on what had transpired at the meeting on the plea that it was a 'sensitive issue'.

He steadfastly maintained that anybody saying anything beyond what he had said would not be doing 'service to the cause' of furthering the normalisation process.

Such restraint did not apply to Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed who said India had raised the issue of terrorism at the meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf while the Pakistani side had brought up Kashmir.

Friendship is in the mutual interest of the two countries but 'the objective can be achieved only if the Kashmir issue is addressed', he told a local TV channel.

The state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) said that the meeting had ended on 'a positive note' and the Pakistani foreign office spokesman Masood Khan described it as a 'good beginning' for a constructive engagement.

Before driving to the Presidential Palace for his meeting with Musharraf, Vajpayee told the gathering at an Indian High Commission function that Indo-Pak dialogue should continue and that the two countries should understand each other's problem to 'find a way out'.

Meanwhile, there were reports that the National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, whose presence in Islamabad ahead of the prime minister's arrival had generated considerable curiosity in the Pakistani media, had met Inter Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Ishanul Haque. Sinha told a reporter who sought details of this reported meeting, "It is not necessary."

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