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Kuala Lumpur date for Atal, Pervez

New Delhi, Dec. 7: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee may skip going to Islamabad for the Saarc summit in early January, but he will not be able to avoid sharing the dais with Pervez Musharraf at the Non-Aligned Movement meet in Kuala Lumpur in February.

South Block officials are not willing to comment on whether the Nam summit could lead to a Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting on the sidelines. “It is too far away and it will be premature to say anything on a meeting between the two at this stage,” a foreign ministry official said.

For such a meeting to take place, a lot would depend on how things proceed in the next few months. Saarc nations are making serious attempts to iron out differences and put in place a draft on the preferential trade agreement by the year-end. Officials will meet in Kathmandu after Christmas to work it out. But this may still seem “too-little-too-late”.

Earlier, India had cited lack of progress on this draft as a reason for not going to Islamabad. Indications over the past few weeks, too, suggest that Vajpayee may not travel there. But there is no ambiguity about Vajpayee attending the Nam meet in the third week of February.

In preparation for the Nam meet, Yashwant Sinha will leave for Cape Town on Wednesday for a meeting of a select group of foreign ministers from 16 developing countries. The three-day meet, starting Friday, will focus on the ongoing debate on the relevance of Nam and how it can be re-vitalised.

A founding member of Nam, India has always used the forum as a happy hunting ground. But over the past few decades, questions have been raised on its relevance and effectiveness to highlight and safeguard the interests of the developing world.

South Block officials concede that Nam has lost much of its importance in a global scenario where America’s primacy is acknowledged by all and where no single country or group of countries have managed to counter-balance it.

At the Cape Town meet, developments in Iraq in the face of an imminent military strike by the US will be a topic for talks. Though Cuba, Algiers and Egypt are part of the group of ministers, Nam nations realise they cannot afford to take a confrontationist stand vis-à-vis the US.

It is in this context that Nam will have to find a new role for itself. The forum will continue to talk about strengthening the UN and its importance in resolving conflict worldwide, but the emphasis this time will be on closer cooperation in the economic field.

Member nations will also coordinate their positions on the World Trade Organisation to ensure that the developing world does not end up losers. They will also discuss access to more sophisticated technology that remains limited to developed countries.

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