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Atal returns Musharraf Saarc slap

Male, Sept. 23: After ruling out early resumption of talks with Pakistan yesterday, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today used his visit to Maldives to reiterate India’s concern over terrorism and importance of weeding it out for peace and regional stability.

He, of course, didn’t need to name Pakistan. But he took the opportunity to blame Pakistan for not only not doing enough to fight terrorism but also stalling Saarc’s attempt to formalise the regional fight against terrorism.

At a meeting with Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom this afternoon, he alleged that “some irrational political motivations” (of Pakistan) were stalling the efforts for closer economic cooperation among Saarc countries.

Later in the afternoon at a civic reception by the mayor of Male, Vajpayee took another dig at Pakistan. He asked for a global partnership primarily among democratic societies, which, he said, were most threatened by the “bigoted ideologies that drive terrorism”.

This is seen by diplomats accompanying the Prime Minister here as a rebuttal of President Pervez Musharraf’s latest allegation that India is promoting bilateralism at the cost of Saarc.

In an interview with a group of Maldivian journalists on the eve of his arrival here, Vajpayee reiterated India’s complaint that some member-countries had failed to implement the Saarc convention on suppression of terrorism through legislation.

India had been making this complaint at several Saarc meetings since the convention was adopted in 1987. Maldives took the lead in pushing for an additional protocol to the convention at the Saarc ministerial meeting in Kathmandu last month.

That India wants to engage Maldives in the regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism was underscored by Vajpayee’s promise today to continue and increase Delhi’s support to defence training and equipment supply to Maldives. At his meeting with Gayoom this afternoon, Vajpayee also offered to set up facilities in Maldives for digital mapping of the islands and a remote-sensing centre.

Although a small island country with a population of 2.7 lakh, Maldives has been important to India because of its strategic location in the Indian Ocean and also because of its membership of the OIC.

The country’s security relations with India have had a special significance since 1988 when the Indian military crushed an attempted coup against Gayoom in 1988 by a Sri Lankan Tamil militant.

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