Islamabad/New Delhi, Dec. 22: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace bus will not burn rubber on Pakistani asphalt this time, his bullet-proof BMW will.
Taking no chances after President Pervez Musharraf escaped a bridge blast last week, Pakistan has permitted India to bring its own convoy of vehicles and security gadgets to protect Vajpayee when he will be in Islamabad from January 3 to 6 for the Saarc summit. Pakistan has also allowed Delhi to send a large number of commandos if Vajpayee’s security managers feel that such a step is necessary.
So far, India has decided to ferry two BMWs for the Prime Minister’s use in Islamabad. Usually, when Prime Ministers visit a foreign country, the host or the guest’s embassy provides the fortified vehicles.
In Islamabad, too, barring Vajpayee, the chief executives of all Saarc members, like Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, will have their travel and most of the security requirements taken care of by Pakistan.
An exception has been made for Vajpayee keeping in mind the sensitive nature of Indo-Pak relations and the assassination attempt on Musharraf in Rawalpindi on December 14. India had made the same exception when a high-risk guest like Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited Delhi recently.
Musharraf’s close shave may also prompt India to use jammers sourced from Pakistan. Sources in Delhi said India has requested Pakistan to keep some jammers on standby.
It is widely believed that US-supplied jammers installed in Musharraf’s armoured Mercedes had delayed electronic signals used to detonate the explosives, ensuring that they blew up only after the President’s motorcade passed the bridge. The blast is being blamed on al Qaida.
Vajpayee’s security arrangements were worked out after a five-member team of Indian security officials visited Islamabad last week. “The Indian security officials inspected different routes leading to the President’s and Prime Minister’s secretariats, the venue of the summit as well as Punjab House, which has been declared the official residence of Vajpayee,” an interior ministry official said in Islamabad.
He said the Indian Prime Minister would bring his own security personnel and vehicles.
An advance team of Special Protection Group commandos are already in Pakistan, officials in Delhi said. They will form the outer ring of security, which is usually in place well before the Prime Minister lands on foreign soil with his usual phalanx of bodyguards.
Unlike in 1999, when Vajpayee covered part of the distance to Lahore on a peace bus, on January 3 – a day before the Saarc summit – Vajpayee will reaching Islamabad in a plane. Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha will land on New Year’s Day – the day when civil aviation links resume between the two countries. It is not known whether Vajpayee’s BMWs will also take off on the same day.