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Delhi treads with caution

New Delhi, May 9: US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage is likely to deliver tomorrow another peace-booster message from Pakistan to Delhi, but a cautious India prefers to wait and watch.

Improvement on the ground is the watchword for Delhi now. The country’s leadership, however, feels there is a groundswell of support for peace in Pakistan, which may give Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s latest initiative a better chance of succeeding.

But before that, Pakistan’s promises have to match developments on the ground.

The caution can be traced back to a year ago, when Armitage had come to Delhi with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s categoric assurance to take sincere steps to “completely” stop cross-border terrorism.

After the hope the assurance had raised in Delhi, the developments of subsequent months had been a big let-down as there was no significant shift in Islamabad’s policy towards infiltration across the Line of Control and violence in Kashmir.

A senior South Block official expressed Delhi’s watchfulness this time when he said: “There is nothing new for us to say to Armitage, nor do we think he has anything new to tell us.”

“The only change in the situation, perhaps, is that the US deputy secretary was here last year when Indian and Pakistani troops were mobilised along the border, and he comes here this time when the peace initiative is underway.”

The official, however, was quick to say that Armitage’s expected message from Pakistan might still be important.

But Delhi will wait to see if the message translates into an improved ground situation on cross-border terrorism.

“There has been no dilution in our stand on cross-border terrorism. Maybe the tone has changed, perhaps it is more softer this time, but fundamentally there is no shift on the issue of terrorism,” the government official said.

Armitage reached here late tonight after talks with the Pakistani leadership in Islamabad over the past 48 hours.

He will have wide-ranging discussions with the Indian leadership, including the Prime Minister and, likely, his deputy L.K. Advani.

Armitage is scheduled to meet foreign minister Yashwant Sinha tomorrow morning, followed by detailed discussions on bilateral and regional issues over lunch hosted by foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. He is likely to meet Advani in the afternoon.

In the evening, the US deputy secretary of state is likely to mouth encouraging words to keep the peace process alive during an interaction with the press, like he did in Islamabad.

Delhi, however, will be looking for significant changes in Pakistan’s attitude, particularly towards dismantling its terror apparatus, before resuming talks, especially at the summit level.

As a matter of policy, Delhi will emphasise its bilateral issues with the US while talking to Armitage instead of discussing India-Pakistan relations.

But the current peace initiative is expected to become the main focus of tomorrow’s talks along with Armitage’s perception of steps being taken by the Musharraf regime to normalise relations with India.

Once the issue is broached, Delhi will present its side of the story and explain its view of the recent developments in Pakistan.

The Indian leadership believes that the groundswell of support for peace in Pakistan may compel Musharraf to move towards negotiations with Delhi more sincerely than in the past.

Musharraf, whose political position Delhi believes is quite shaky, is under constant pressure from various parties in Pakistan.

This comes on top of the international community’s pressure, particularly the US’, to make him stop cross-border-terrorism and dismantle the terror apparatus in Pakistan.

With hopes fuelled by these factors, South Block believes that, perhaps this time, the Pakistani leadership will sincerely accept India’s peace incentive offered to Musharraf.

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