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Five-minute push to peace

New Delhi, Dec. 8: The conversation on the phone this evening between the Prime Minister and his Pakistan counterpart lasted only five minutes but the outcome could have a lasting effect.

Warming up the thawing process further, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali got on the phone to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and thanked him for confirming his participation at the January Saarc summit in Islamabad.

Brightening chances of a bilateral meeting between the two, Jamali told Vajpayee that a “warm welcome” awaited him. The Prime Minister said he was looking forward to the visit.

This was the second conversation between the premiers in more than eight months. Jamali last called Vajpayee in April, days after the Prime Minister offered his hand of friendship to Islamabad at a public rally in Srinagar.

The final stimulus for Jamali’s latest gesture was perhaps Vajpayee’s letter to him of December 4, confirming his participation at the summit.

Coming as the conversation did after the host of peace measures announced in the past few weeks, official sources said the leaders agreed there had been “positive bilateral developments”, including the ceasefire on the border, the Line of Control and the Siachen glacier.

While both agreed the “positive trend” should be sustained, Vajpayee expressed hope that the summit would focus on all aspects of regional and economic cooperation.

The emphasis on regional and economic cooperation is significant because the Prime Minister is obviously clarifying that his visit is to attend the January 4-6 Saarc summit and is not a bilateral trip.

Though Vajpayee had said earlier he would meet all the leaders in Pakistan, Delhi has so far been ambiguous on a bilateral meeting between the Prime Minister and his Pakistan counterpart. Senior foreign ministry officials have continued to maintain Delhi’s stated position that talks could be revived only after cross-border terrorism stops completely.

There are indications in the ministry, however, that if the host, Jamali, requested an exclusive meeting, the Prime Minister would find it difficult to turn it down.

Traditionally, South Asian leaders have met bilaterally on the sidelines of Saarc summits. So far, neither Pakistan nor any other country has requested a separate meeting with Vajpayee this time. But such requests could always be made closer to the date of the summit.

Pakistan passed India’s first test of Islamabad’s desire for peace when the civil aviation talks wound up successfully last week. Now, Delhi is watching for a reduction in violence in Kashmir and cross-border infiltration.

Indications are if all goes well and the bilateral meeting takes place, it could lead to early resumption of official-level talks between the two countries, suspended since 2000.

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