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Atal to attend meet in Islamabad

Kathmandu, Aug. 22: India today made it clear that it would not allow strains in bilateral ties with Pakistan to scuttle the progress of the Saarc, saying it would attend the forthcoming Saarc summit in Islamabad.

“We must be able to distinguish between India-Pakistan relations from the proceedings of Saarc,” foreign minister Yashwant Sinha said.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee might attend the Islamabad meet in January 2003.

The foreign minster said: “India is fully committed to the Saarc process. We want it to be a powerful instrument of regional cooperation. It has been our endeavour not to allow bilateral issues to thwart or cloud Saarc. We have succeeded in this. No contentious issues were raised at this ministerial meeting.”

A report was unanimously adopted at the conclusion of the two-day Saarc council of ministers meeting that stressed on renewing the fight against terrorism and pledged to bring about required changes in the existing laws to make them compatible with international legislation to combat the threat.

It also emphasised to make poverty alleviation the “overarching goal” of the Saarc and to complete the framework treaty on free trade and preferential trade by the year-end. It called for urgent cooperation in the fields of information technology, bio-technology, health and tourism.

Sinha’s remarks gave out a clear signal that India was no longer prepared to allow Saarc meetings to be converted into sparring match between New Delhi and Islamabad. Though bilateral issues are seldom discussed at the Saarc forum, the focus invariably shifts from the regional issues to those relating to Indo-Pak relations.

Earlier, there were indications that New Delhi might skip the Islamabad summit unless there was a dramatic improvement in India-Pakistan relations. In fact, the Pakistani delegation said here today that India had rejected its proposed dates for the summit initially for April 14 to 16 and later in early next February.

But Sinha said the Pakistani version was a “deliberate attempt” at distorting the real picture. The summit dates proposed by Pakistan were not acceptable to India because its budget process begins in early February goes on till May end, he added.

“We don’t know which issues are likely to come up that needs urgent attention and, therefore, it is not possible for the Prime Minister to be out of the country during this period,” Sinha said, adding many other countries had similar problems and were against the dates initially proposed by Pakistan.

Asked whether Vajpayee would go to Islamabad if the current hostility between India and Pakistan persisted, the foreign minister rebutted that the two countries had been participating in the United Nations General Assembly every year despite the strains in their bilateral relations.

“Will you also drag in India-Pakistan relations even if a soccer match is going on between Uruguay and Paraguay'” Sinha asked, urging the media to stop bring up the hostile relations of the two South Asian nations at every occasion.

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