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Armitage at home in India with no House

Washington, May 7: The US may be attempting to introduce democracy in Iraq, but America’s top diplomat now in South Asia is allergic to India’s Parliament.

Deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage will arrive in New Delhi a few hours after Parliament, which unanimously criticised the Bush administration’s war on Iraq, adjourns sine die on Friday after budget session.

Sources in Washington, familiar with preparations for Armitage’s visit, told The Telegraph that the only consideration in deciding the date for his arrival in the Indian capital was that Parliament should not be in session.

As a result, Armitage will have talks with Pakistan’s leaders in Islamabad on Thursday, fly to Kabul on Friday and arrive in New Delhi the same evening as India’s parliamentarians are packing their bags to return to their constituencies.

Such an itinerary makes it certain that Indian MPs will have neither the time nor the inclination to vent their feelings against Washington once again, taking advantage of the presence of a senior Bush envoy.

Not that they would have done so for certain, what with anti-American feeling only a fraction of what it was during the Vietnam era or in the run up to the war for liberating Bangladesh.

Yet, the Parliament resolution on Iraq was a warning that unpleasantness must be avoided if possible. Both India and the US agreed that the best way to achieve that was for Armitage not to give any excuse to MPs to say or do anything anti-American. More so since there is a perception in some quarters that the US is insinuating itself into South Asia.

Armitage has done his best in the run-up to his visit to dispel any such notion and to rationalise expectations from his three-nation tour.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher went out of his way yesterday to rein in the enthusiasm of reporters here for the India-Pakistan rapprochement. “Let us not get too far ahead of ourselves,” he cautioned at his daily briefing. “I mean, certainly there’s a lot of good things going on and we welcome that, we have encouraged that, we are working with them on that. But there is certainly more things to do and more things that we will be talking to them (India and Pakistan) about.”

Meanwhile, it is understood that the Heathrow talks between Armitage and Indian national security adviser Brajesh Mishra served as a reality check on the progress of the peace initiative by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan’s response so far.

The Americans, in New Delhi’s view, are giving too much importance to Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s role in the peace process. Jamali and his soft-line foreign minister, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, have emerged as the public faces of the peace moves in Islamabad.

The Bush administration, in fact, has invited Kasuri here within days of Armitage’s return to Washington for another round of talks.

Armitage is said to have been unambiguously told in the Heathrow talks that what is important is for General Pervez Musharraf to fulfil the commitments he personally made to the US deputy secretary of state last summer about ending cross-border terrorism.

India’s swift, but critical response to a set of Pakistani confidence-building measures on Tuesday are being interpreted here as an effort to ensure that Musharraf reiterates his commitments in word during Armitage’s stay in Islamabad and honours them in deed after the US envoy has gone home.

India said the Pakistani measures were “completely inadequate” and that they made no references to “cross-border terrorism”, which is the core issue in the coming talks with Pakistan, according to New Delhi’ perception.

Informed sources said Armitage may suggest to Musharraf that Pakistan should make an appeal to Kashmiri militant groups for a ceasefire to give the current peace moves a chance.

In return, India would have to give a commitment to a process of sustained dialogue aimed at producing results. There is a view in Islamabad that in the past India agreed to discuss Kashmir only to stall on details and dwell on procedure rather than substance.

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