The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi slips up on date defence

New Delhi, Oct. 23: India has spun a web of ambiguity around the Saarc summit scheduled in Islamabad, but it is learnt that the dates of the meeting for the South Asian heads of government were given by Pakistan to Delhi nearly two months ago.

The Pakistani foreign ministry announced today that the Saarc summit would be held in Islamabad from January 11 to 13.

India has so far been sending conflicting signals of whether Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would attend the meeting in the Pakistani capital.

While some ministers had said Vajpayee would attend if the summit is held, the foreign ministry has been claiming that a decision would be taken only after the dates are made available.

But Islamabad had given Delhi the dates of the summit on August 28. At the meeting of the Saarc foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York last month, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha told his counterparts from the region that the proposed dates appeared to be fine.

But the approval of the Prime Ministerís Office was necessary before the foreign ministry could give its formal approval. Barring India, all Saarc members were ready to accept the dates proposed by Islamabad.

India has not formally denied Pakistanís contention that the dates of the summit are already with South Block. But the Indian foreign policy establishment continued to emit contradictory signals on whether the Prime Minister will travel to Islamabad in January.

It is not clear whether the confusion is a calibrated response from Delhi to keep the other side guessing or part of the differences in dealing with Pakistan.

The Saarc summit will be preceded by a meeting of the standing committee, where foreign secretaries of the seven-member nations will put forward the draft of the summit and its agenda, beginning on January 7.

This will be followed by a two-day meeting of the foreign ministers from January 9. The summit will begin the next day.

Indiaís reluctance to give an unequivocal assurance to Pakistan on the visit stems from the assessment here that it will only help ease the pressure on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf from the international community.

Delhi feels that world leaders might occasionally remind Musharraf of his commitment to stop cross-border terrorism. But the contradictory signals emanating from Delhi has only helped create confusion about the Indian stand.

On Sunday, defence minister George Fernandes had said Vajpayee would go to Islamabad to attend the Saarc summit. But within hours, the foreign ministry pointed out that no final decision on the Prime Ministerís visit has been taken.

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