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Long, sterile PM-Pervez talks

New York, Sept. 15: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked to President Pervez Musharraf last night for nearly four hours, but the outcome belied even the most modest expectations of progress in the peace process between India and Pakistan.

There were no new initiatives, there was no catalogue of what had been achieved and there was no outline of what lay ahead in the process, which had raised high hopes when the two men met here a year ago and again in Delhi in April.

Eight hours after the Manmohan-Musharraf talks failed to move forward, foreign secretary Shyam Saran tried to put the best face on this round of Indo-Pakistan summit.

He told Indian correspondents that “we are not engaged in event-making, we are engaged in a process”.

Each time the two leaders meet, Saran said: “We cannot produce something spectacular.” But it was clear from Saran’s briefing terrorism was the issue on which last night’s summit deadlocked.

He said Singh strongly put across to Musharraf India’s view that “continued acts of terrorism affect our ability to take the peace process forward”.

The Prime Minister made it clear that acts of violence from across the border affected Indian public opinion and that peace can come only if the Indian people are in support of efforts to make peace with Pakistan.

The meeting began at 8.30 with the foreign ministers and national security advisers on both sides in attendance. The delegations talked for an hour and 45 minutes after which they adjourned for dinner in a suite at the New York Palace Hotel, where the Prime Minister is staying.

They were joined for dinner by the two foreign secretaries, the media advisers to the two leaders and the Pakistani ambassador to the US.

The atmosphere at the dinner was very friendly and relaxed with Musharraf making a special effort to lighten the mood after the delegation-level talks had hit roadblocks.

The General, for instance, told external affairs minister Natwar Singh that the next time he was in Pakistan, he should visit Cuckoos, a new restaurant in Lahore, which was the rage in the city’s social circuit.

The restaurant has been put up in the traditional home of a Hindu family that once lived there. Musharraf talked about how he was embarrassed during a visit to Cuckoos because it had a painting on the wall depicting a man in uniform dragging a woman by her hair.

When the dinner failed to achieve the breakthrough, the delegations left Singh and Musharraf alone for half an hour in the hope that their chemistry may produce a recipe for the success of the dialogue.

It did not. The only result of the one-on-one talks was an invitation to Singh to visit Pakistan, which the Prime Minister readily accepted.

But no dates were announced. Because the invitation from Musharraf came as a face-saver for the talks at the last minute, it does not find a place in the joint statement issued at the end of the summit, which was read out by Musharraf at a joint news conference.

The statement referred to terrorism right at the start. “The two leaders referred to their earlier statements of January 6, 2004, and April 18, 2005, and reiterated their pledge not to allow terrorism to impede the peace process.”

Its last paragraph said: “They expressed their commitment to ensure a peaceful settlement of all pending issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides. They agreed that possible options for a peacefully negotiated settlement should continue to be pursued in a sincere spirit and a purposeful manner.”

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