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Pak pitch for Kathmandu kickoff

Washington, June 25: The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan will hold their much-awaited dialogue as part of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiative on July 9 and 10.

Pakistan’s foreign secretary Riaz Khokar has told his American interlocutors here that a meeting with Kanwal Sibal, his Indian counterpart, will take place in Kathmandu where the two senior officials are due for a meeting of the standing committee of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).

US government sources, who have access to Khokar’s talks here as part of a visit by General Pervez Musharraf, said Pakistan’s foreign secretary was optimistic that an Indo-Pak summit could take place in Islamabad on the sidelines of the next Saarc summit.

Khokar expressed confidence that the standing committee meeting in Nepal’s capital would finalise dates for the 12th Saarc summit.

According to US sources, Pakistan preferred October for the summit, but speculated that Vajpayee may not be willing to travel at that time due to Assembly election schedules in India. December, Khokar said, could be an alternative.

Responding to in-depth queries by the Americans, who are keenly tracking the sub-continental peace process, he doubted if an earlier summit could be arranged on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September because of the time needed for meetings at lower levels as part of the preparations.

Khokar, a known hawk on India, made a snide remark that Vajpayee may not want to stake his party’s results in the state elections on an Indo-Pak summit, implying confidence that Pakistan will come out on top of any such summit.

The popular view in Pakistan is that Musharraf seized the initiative from Vajpayee both in Agra last year and later in Almaty when he strode up to the Prime Minister and shook his hand after the general’s speech at a multilateral summit.

The Americans are paying a lot of attention to Khokar during the visit since they consider him to be the most important player in Pakistan’s foreign policy after Musharraf.

Administration officials here who deal with South Asia have been particularly impressed by the way Khokar upstaged his foreign minister and Prime Minister in choosing Aziz Ahmed Khan as the new high commissioner in New Delhi.

This newspaper had reported how Khokar manipulated Khan’s choice over that of the Prime Minister, who announced the name of Riaz Mohammad Khan, now ambassador to China, and was subsequently forced to eat his words.

Significantly, Musharraf has arrived here without his foreign minister, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, making the foreign secretary’s the final word of advice to the general on foreign policy during his US visit.

The last time Musharraf arrived in the US without his foreign minister was when he despatched Abdus Sattar for a meeting in Turkey instead. A few weeks later, Sattar lost his job.

The White House has announced that in addition to the $3-billion assistance to Pakistan announced by President George W. Bush at Camp David yesterday, it has sought another $120 million in the financial year 2004 for aid in sectors such as health and law enforcement.

Further, an amount of $75 million in private sector lending to Pakistan will be guaranteed by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and a five-year trade capacity-building programme will be launched under the auspices of the department of commerce.

A science and technology agreement is to be signed shortly to promote cooperation, especially through scientific exchanges.

 

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