The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pakistan gives Delhi Russia jitters

New Delhi, Sept. 6: Worried over reports that Pakistan is working to soften Russia’s stand on the Taliban, India tonight sent foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal to Moscow for urgent talks.

Pakistan has been trying to convince Russia that a Taliban minus Mullah Omar and with a human face is likely to be beneficial when it tackles its internal problems in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Sibal will hold talks with first deputy foreign minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov and other senior leaders. But the ostensible reason for his visit is discussions with the Russians before the UN General Assembly, a tradition the countries have been following for several years.

Afghan developments, particularly the regrouping of Taliban with Pakistan’s help, will also come up for talks. Sibal will try to ascertain how far Russia is convinced that keeping a line of communication open with the Taliban will work in its favour.

The Vladimir Putin regime is keen to restore normality in Chechnya. It plans to hold polls next month to bring back stability in the region wracked by years of ethnic violence and “secessionist” activities.

Russia wants to ensure nothing untoward happens to upset its Chechnya gameplan. That is why it has been engaging with Pakistan and holding discussions in the joint working group on counter-terrorism. But India is worried there are a few takers in Russia for the Pakistani line on the Taliban.

One issue that will come up at the General Assembly later this month is the progress made in the fight against global terror. India has been piling pressure on Pakistan through the world community, arguing that it is still helping the Taliban to regroup despite joining the global coalition against terror. The fear now is that if Russia succumbs to the Pakistani argument, it might go soft on the Taliban and the pressure on Pakistan will come down.

Delhi is aware that Pakistan is getting jittery about the speed with which it is expanding its influence in Afghanistan. It believes the Indian consulate attack in Jalalabad was an attempt by Pakistan to retard the pace, especially its growing influence in Pashtoon dominated areas.

“This was bound to happen,” a South Block source said about the August 30 consulate attack in which armed men threw grenades at the building from a moving vehicle and sped away.

Indian authorities had received repeated intelligence alerts about such an attack and had taken precautionary measures, minimising the damage to the consulate and preventing injuries. The Afghan guards returned fire on the culprits and later managed to pick up some of them. “We will get a clearer picture after their interrogation is completed,” a foreign ministry official said.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf — who was forced to join the US coalition against global terror — has been fighting the al Qaida on one hand and going soft on the Taliban on the other. There are enough indications that the Pakistani establishment, or at least a section of it, is playing an active role in the regrouping of the Taliban, now engaged in a fierce battle with the US-Afghan forces along the border.

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