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Pak trip to give peace a chance

New York, Sept. 17: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Pakistan early next year in an effort to control the damage to the peace process with Islamabad caused during his meeting with General Pervez Musharraf here on Wednesday.

Following a review of the four-hour deadlocked meeting between Singh and Musharraf, the Prime Minister’s top aides have concluded that as the result of an uncompromising stand taken by India during Wednesday’s talks, Musharraf had already pulled back from positions that impeded the peace process.

The aides advised Singh just before his departure from New York and the Prime Minister accepted their view that the process of rapprochement with Pakistan should be given another chance.

It was agreed that the best way to do that would be for Singh to take up the threads of his dialogue with Musharraf, from where they were left off on Wednesday, by visiting Islamabad.

According to Mushahid Hussain, the top aide to Musharraf on publicity and speech-writing, Musharraf injected comments on UN resolutions on Kashmir in his speech to the UN summit here on Wednesday in response to the Prime Minister’s interview to Wolf Blitzer of the CNN on July 20, in which he said “that the infrastructure of terror is largely intact in Pakistan”.

Musharraf was also upset that Singh had told the CNN that there was a danger that jihadi elements in Pakistan could displace the General.

According to Hussain, Musharraf was hurt by Singh’s comments and, therefore, brought Kashmir into his UN address well before the Indians revealed on Tuesday that the Prime Minister spoke to US President George W. Bush about the flow of terror into Kashmir from across the border.

As part of the damage control since the stalemate in the Indo-Pakistan dialogue, the Indians have told the Pakistanis that a distinction must be made between a TV interview and speech by the head of state to a global audience: the latter goes through a rigorous vetting process.

Singh had arrived in New York ready to unveil proposals that would have led to a resolution of the dispute with Pakistan over Sir Creek, notwithstanding India’s conviction that Pakistan continued to maintain an infrastructure for cross-border terrorism.

The package on Sir Creek was a concession India was prepared to make in order to keep the peace process alive in spite of misgivings on terrorism. But Musharraf’s UN speech was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.

The despondence and irritation triggered by references to Kashmir in that speech was visible on Singh’s face when he appeared with Musharraf to read the joint statement on their meeting here.

With the General going back on an understanding not to raise Kashmir in the UN any more, there were fears on the Indian side during Wednesday's talks that

Musharraf may try to do an Agra in New York after the talks deadlocked.

Therefore, Singh pointedly walked away from the podium even as Musharraf started answering questions from reporters about the joint statement.

Musharraf had no choice, but to stop mid-sentence in his answer because India had hosted the talks and the General could not overstay his welcome on Indian space. He decided not to push matters further downhill.

By the time Musharraf addressed a press conference of his own at the UN the following day, he had become a chastened man.

He stepped back from the speech and indicated a willingness not to harp on UN resolutions for solving Kashmir.

“Pakistan is flexible on this to the extent that we are prepared to go beyond them, not unilaterally but bilaterally", he told reporters.

On terrorism too, Musharraf showed accommodation for India’s strong feelings. “Any violence against civilians is terrorism. That is how I define terrorism,” he said.

“We need to remove signs of violence in Kashmir. So this has two sides to it. One is violence against people of Kashmir and the other is what is being done by people who are coming across the line of control. We need to address both of them."

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