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Joshi breaks ice with Pak envoy

New Delhi, Nov. 3: Pakistan’s high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan met Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi today. The interaction, coming close on the heels of last week’s meeting with commerce minister Arun Jaitley, is to be followed by an audience tomorrow with Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah.

The meetings mark the first interaction Khan is having with important Indian leaders. Till now, his requests to meet senior ministers have gone unheeded as Delhi follows Islamabad’s lead — Pakistan has not allowed India’s high commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon to meet senior Pakistani leaders.

Since arriving in India in end-June, Khan has only managed to present his credentials to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on July 10 and call on foreign minister Yashwant Sinha.

Khan and Joshi had, what an aide to the Speaker described as, an extremely cordial meeting, during which both agreed that South Asia needed peace. The Speaker praised Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s April peace initiative and said India had given a push to the process by announcing 12 conciliatory Diwali gestures.

The high commissioner said Pakistan appreciated the Prime Minister’s gesture and had responded positively. He felt the steps taken by the neighbours would ensure peace in the region. Khan added that resumption of rail and air services would increase people-to-people contacts.

Joshi asked the high commissioner about reservation for women in Pakistan’s National Assembly and in local bodies. Khan said 21 per cent of Assembly seats were reserved for women, adding that the government is considering an increase to 33 per cent soon.

Pakistan wants Khan to meet Vajpayee, his deputy L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and other notables, but there is no indication that Delhi is ready to oblige.

Considering India has insisted that normality can be restored only step by step, it could be a while before the high commissioner is granted access to top National Democratic Alliance leaders.

India says it has taken its cue from Pakistan. Menon has only been allowed to meet Wali Khan, son of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. He travelled to Mardan, near Peshawar, to meet the son of Frontier Gandhi.

Amid the mind games being played by the South Asian rivals, there are some positives: later this week, India and Pakistan will free a new batch of fishermen who have strayed into each other’s territorial waters.

Flight immunity plea

Pakistan has linked progress at next month’s aviation talks to a condition which snarled the first round as it was unacceptable to India, reports our correspondent.

Islamabad has said a headway could be made if India accepts a mechanism that will prevent unilateral withdrawal of air links and overflight facility by either country in the future.

“Abrupt suspension of the facility by India in December 2001 adversely affected economic and other interests of the two countries,” foreign office spokesman Masood Khan said.

He said only mutual guarantees could ensure continuation of the facility, adding that resumption of air links and overflights is in the interest of both Islamabad and New Delhi.

A fresh round of the talks is scheduled on December 1 and 2. India had earlier suggested November 3 and 4 or November 10 and 11 for technical-level talks but Pakistan had proposed the first week of December.

The spokesman questioned statements by Indian officials that, he said, held Pakistan responsible for delay in commencement of the talks.

“We are not delaying the talks. The process is slow-paced because of India, which has not agreed yet on devising a mechanism to prevent unilateral suspension of air links and overflights facility,” he said.

Pakistani and Indian officials had failed to achieve a breakthrough on such a mechanism in the first round of talks in Islamabad in August this year.

The talks hit a dead end when the Indian delegation objected to the Pakistani demand, saying it was out of the four-point agenda that had been circulated and required perusal.

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