| Sheikh Rasheed greets Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Saarc information ministers’ meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Nov. 11: Inside the auditorium at the Parliament annex, under the glare of the media and of all those packed into the hall, there was just one exchange that could not be recorded.
In that moment, claimed Pakistani information minister Sheikh Rasheed today, he had delivered a “short, sweet and smart message from President Musharraf and Prime Minister Jamali” to Atal Bihar Vajpayee.
This was the first meeting at the political level since Vajpayee announced in a Srinagar rally in April that he was extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan. The occasion: the inaugural of the third conference of Saarc information ministers.
Shortly afterwards, leaving for his trip to Russia, Vajpayee said of his brief encounter with Rasheed: “I just shook hands with the Pakistani minister. There was no conversation today.”
But Rasheed is sanguine that his message has been delivered to the right addressee. It was a message from his leaders who set Vajpayee apart from the rest of the leadership in India.
“I have already met the senior most leader in this country (India) and given him the message. He (Vajpayee) said, ‘haan, milenge’ (yes, we will meet)”.
Rasheed’s message: Vajpayee is welcome to Pakistan at the time of the Saarc summit and Musharraf and Jamali look forward to meeting him.
The Pakistani minister was the first to greet Vajpayee as the Saarc ministers were invited to the dais for a photo-call.
“We have all been waiting for his arrival (in Pakistan),” Rasheed said after the encounter.
“The people of Pakistan have a lot of expectation,” he said, before walking to the banquet hall where he reserved the choicest one-liner for the securitymen, minutes after his counterpart, Ravi Shankar Prasad, had made a plea for free flow of information in South Asia.
The securitymen were shutting the door on the media as Rasheed was about to leave. “Arre,” he said, playing to the gallery, “why are you shutting doors when I have come here to open them' Will your attitude never change'”
Before Rasheed delivered the message Vajpayee says he never received, the Prime Minister used the Saarc platform to make a statesmanesque appeal to rise above bilateral differences. Unlike the Saarc information meeting in Islamabad last year, there was no grandstanding at the inaugural.
“Innovative regional and sub-regional arrangement are being launched in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean region including countries which have a history of bitter hostility towards each other,” Vajpayee said in his speech.
“This is a dominant trend in today’s globalising world. It is time that we recognise what it means for all of us in South Asia. If Saarc cannot organise itself, it will simply miss the boat. Other alignments will develop to seize the economic opportunities offered by closer integration.”
We cannot forever be challenging logic and mocking economics,” the Prime Minister couched a warning in advice.