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Party trips on PM words

New Delhi, April 29: Will he, won’t he — go to Pakistan'

That is the question — and disturbingly so — within the BJP. The Prime Minister, in true Atal Bihari Vajpayee fashion, is not only not providing the answer, he has provided the question.

At a BJP parliamentary party meeting, Vajpayee said: “Maine nahi maana hai”, while narrating the sequence of last evening’s telephone conversation with Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali.

BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra read it as: “I (Vajpayee) was invited to visit Pakistan by the Prime Minister of that country but I have not accepted it.”

Put like this, it would seem Vajpayee had outright rejected the invitation, which suits the BJP as it possibly believes visiting Pakistan would not go down well with the electorate which will vote in several states later in the year.

Government sources, however, insisted that what Vajpayee meant was: “I have not yet accepted the invitation.” The stress is on “yet”. “In effect, he meant he had not made a commitment,” they said.

Pakistan would like to see one, though. Its foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said: “The Prime Minister (Jamali) extended an invitation to Vajpayee to visit Pakistan. I hope he will do so quickly and if he does come, he will receive a warm welcome.”

“As they say in English, third time lucky. Maybe after Lahore and Agra, it will be lucky this time,” he added.

By that logic, it’s Vajpayee’s turn to visit Pakistan, but the Prime Minister has left that part to speculation.

Vajpayee did much the same when he visited Kashmir and made what looked like an offer to reopen talks with Pakistan, but qualified it by saying: “If bloodshed stops”.

These are conditions India has been insisting on for long and continues to emphasise even amid hopes for the resumption of talks. Sources in the foreign ministry said Vajpayee would not rush into talks till he is satisfied Islamabad has taken serious steps to stop infiltration.

At this morning’s meeting, party MPs sought details of Vajpayee’s conversation with Jamali. But the confusion triggered by his statement prompted government sources to step in and clarify that a telephone invitation could not be treated as a “formal offer” which has to follow protocol.

“What the BJP should understand is that we do not have a high commissioner or a deputy high commissioner in Islamabad now. How is Pakistan going to deliver the invitation'” an official said.

“The other problem is there is no air link, but at the same time there is no urgency for the Prime Minister to travel via Dubai. We will go about it step by step.”

But, in effect, what Jamali meant was why don’t you come to Islamabad or we go to India' He certainly did not mean it would have to be within a week or even a month.”

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