SAARC countries trying to get Musharraf and Vajpayee to meet
By Iftikhar Gilani
NEW DELHI: Despite India’s assertion that no bilateral meetings with Pakistani leaders are on the agenda on the sidelines of SAARC summit in Islamabad, efforts are being made by other SAARC countries to arrange a meeting between President General Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee on January 6, the last day of the summit.
Indian Foreign Secretary Sheshank told reporters on Saturday that there was no request from Pakistan for such a meeting. Top officials, however, maintained that Mr Vajpayee would not reject the offer if it came from the host nation.
While Pakistanis are keen about the bilateral meeting, India has said that no formal talks would be possible unless Pakistan stopped cross-border infiltration.
Experts here believe that no matter what the Indo-Pak officials are saying, “no Musharraf-Vajpayee meeting has been fixed” but it does not necessarily mean that “no meeting will be fixed”. Stressing the unpredictability of Indo-Pak relations, they said anything is possible. “If the two sides want a meeting between Gen Musharraf and Mr Vajpayee that can be fixed within 15 minutes,” a senior official in the External Affairs Ministry said.
The summit will begin on January 4. That evening, the Pakistani president will host a banquet for the visiting leaders.
The SAARC leaders will “retreat” for an informal session to talk about issues of common concern and interest on January 5 and the SAARC declaration will be released, followed by a lunch on January 6, the concluding day of the summit. There is a possibility that when Mr Vajpayee calls on Gen Musharraf, it could turn into a bilateral meeting. But even if this does not happen, there are indications that Gen Musharraf may take the initiative to invite Mr Vajpayee to tea.