New Delhi/Islamabad, Oct. 17: The troops on both sides of the border have left the field clear for high diplomacy to move in.
As Pervez Musharraf reciprocated India’s troop pullback gesture, Delhi indicated that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee might attend a Saarc summit in Islamabad early next year.
But the Indian foreign policy establishment was quick to add that if Musharraf remained indifferent to Delhi’s concerns on cross-border terrorism, it would be difficult for Vajpayee to travel to Pakistan in January.
The pace of diplomacy quickened after Pakistan said today it would withdraw its troops from the border to peace-time locations.
India had yesterday announced a partial troop withdrawal from the international border, but both sides said the pullbacks did not apply to Kashmir.
Speculation on whether the Prime Minister would visit Pakistan so soon after the gravest standoff since the 1971 war reached boiling point as conflicting comments spiralled out of South Block.
Junior foreign minister Digvijay Singh told a television channel earlier in the day that the Prime Minister would attend the Saarc summit in Islamabad.
Within hours, however, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha tried to play down the significance of the comment and cast a cloud on the fate of the regional bloc’s meeting itself.
“If the Saarc summit is held, the Prime Minister will definitely attend it. But the summit should have an objective and it should not be just to see each other’s faces,” Sinha said. He added that a decision would be taken at “an appropriate time”.
If Vajpayee visits Islamabad next year, it would be the first trip by a leader of either country to his neighbour since Musharraf came to India for the failed Agra summit in 2001. The two did shake hands briefly in Nepal in January at this year’s Saarc summit, but held no formal talks.
Both Sinha and his deputy were at pains today to stress that the visit, if it went ahead, would focus on Saarc and not on Kashmir.
The primary reason behind Delhi’s reluctance in committing itself to a visit is the fear of more pressure from the US to use the opportunity to resume talks with Islamabad.
Indications are that if India is not satisfied with the Pakistani response on ending cross-border terrorism and dismantling the terror apparatus, it will try to ensure that the summit does not take place.
India is likely to urge some Saarc members to plead inability to attend the meeting. A summit cannot take place unless all the seven members agree on the dates.