‘Air link talks not to affect Vajpayee’s visit’
NEW DELHI: Pakistan said it would welcome Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to a regional summit in Islamabad in January even if the two countries make no progress in restoring air links.
In an interview with the Indian weekly Outlook, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri said Vajpayee “will be welcomed to Pakistan whether or not the expert-level talks on the resumption of air links are concluded”.
India severed air links with Pakistan after a December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament which it blamed on Pakistan-backed Islamic militant groups.
But the two countries started a process of normalisation after Vajpayee offered a symbolic hand of friendship to Pakistan during a visit to Kashmir in April.
Talks on restoring direct air connections between the two countries ended in impasse in August with India reportedly rejecting a Pakistani demand for a guarantee not to impose bans on Pakistani aircraft in the future.
A second round of talks is expected in early December.
The seven-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is due to hold its Islamabad summit one year behind schedule as a 2002 meeting was postponed due to bickering between India and Pakistan.
The last South Asian summit was held in January 2001 in Kathmandu, which Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reached via a lengthy detour over China to avoid Indian airspace. —AFP