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Pervez, Atal face frosty reunion

New Delhi, Feb. 9: Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf may share a multilateral platform in Kuala Lumpur later this month but there is very little possibility of a meeting between the two.

Vajpayee is scheduled to head a high-level Indian delegation for the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam) summit in the Malaysian capital between February 21 and 25.

As Pakistan is also a Nam member, Musharraf is expected to head the delegation from his country at the forthcoming meet.

“There is nothing for us to arrange a meeting between the Prime Minister and President Musharraf (on the sidelines of the Nam summit),” a senior official of the foreign ministry said. He pointed out that the Indian stand for resuming talks with Pakistan is well known and there has been no shift.

Delhi will not move to the talks table till the Musharraf regime “completely” stops cross- border terrorism and dismantles “all its terror apparatus” against India. “We don’t have to meet the Pakistani leader to earn a few diplomatic brownie points,” the official added.

Pakistan indicated that the Indian offer notwithstanding, it was not in a hurry to give the name of a replacement for Jalil Abbas Jilani, to head its mission in New Delhi. Jilani, who was declared persona non grata by India for his alleged role in distributing money to Kashmir-based extremists and given 48 hours to leave the country, will leave by tomorrow.

Jilani’s Indian counterpart in Islamabad, who has also been given marching orders, is expected to arrive here tomorrow.

Both India and Pakistan had applied for visas for the replacements in Delhi and Islamabad. But neither country has so far processed the two applications.

In July last year, India had suggested the name of T.C.A. Raghavan as a replacement for Vyas. But a final approval is yet to come from Islamabad. Pakistan had named Munawar Bhatti to replace Jilani in November this year. But given the history of reciprocity between the two countries, Delhi, too, has been sitting on the application.

While announcing Jilani’s expulsion yesterday, South Block had made it clear that it had no intention of downgrading the Pakistani mission. It had offered to process the visa of any person that Pakistan chose to be put in Jilani’s place. However, the offer was not matched by Islamabad when it announced Vyas’ expulsion.

The two missions in Islamabad and Delhi are now headed by officers of first secretary rank, which, according to most diplomats here, is “too junior” a level to handle a sensitive relationship like that of India and Pakistan.

“There is no confidence left in Pakistan about India,” Jilani said on the eve of his departure.

He claimed that several attempts made by Islamabad to ease the tension had been spurned by Delhi. Soon after the expulsion of four staffers from the two missions last month, Islamabad had called Vyas and informed him about Pakistan’s decision to release all the Indian fishermen in its custody, he added.

“This was to be a good signal to show our keenness to improve ties. But India immediately reacted the next day by announcing that Pakistan will have to release all the fishermen, in an attempt to show that it is Delhi’s tough stand that was forcing us to free them,” Jilani said.

He added, “It is gestures like this from Delhi that has made us lose all confidence in India’s intention to have good neighbourly relations with Pakistan.”

After the expulsions from Delhi and Islamabad, a suggestion is gaining ground in India that it would perhaps suit both the countries better if they were to close down their missions for sometime, instead of going through the motions of expelling diplomats at regular intervals. The Pakistani side, too, does not rule out such a possibility and argued that the manner in which bilateral ties between the two sides were nose-diving, it may soon create a situation where the missions will have to be closed down.

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