New Delhi, Jan. 7: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is not averse to going to Pakistan if the Pervez Musharraf regime gives an assurance to start normal trading relations with India.
The Saarc summit, earlier scheduled to be held in Islamabad this week, was called off by the Pakistani authorities last month after India refused to confirm Vajpayee’s participation when the two countries failed to agree on preferential trade arrangements for each other.
Though the other South Asian nations were willing to agree to such an arrangement, it was Pakistan’s reluctance to offer normal trading rights to India that created the stumbling block.
Highly placed government sources said Vajpayee could still go to Islamabad if the Pakistani leadership assured that it would give up its rigid stand and offer normal trading ties with India.
In fact, Musharraf was a party to the agreement of the last Saarc summit in Kathmandu, where all the seven member states decided to complete the preferential trade arrangement by the year-end along with the framework for a free-trade zone in South Asia.
Pakistan’s refusal to offer normal trading rights to India perhaps stems from its fear that such a move would dilute the “centrality” of the Kashmir issue in its relations with Delhi.
Though a signatory to the World Trade Organisation, Islamabad has so far not given India the most-favoured-nation (MFN) status. Delhi, also a signatory to the WTO, however, has given Pakistan the status, which, in effect, means normal trading rights.
The Pakistani leadership has refused to reciprocate on the plea that till the Kashmir dispute is settled, it will not offer MFN status to India.
“Pakistan had a chance and still has the chance of restarting the stalled dialogue with India if it makes positive gestures towards the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement (Sapta) and the South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta),” a senior Central official said. Till it shows such an inclination, however, there is little possibility of Vajpayee going to Pakistan.
The US, keen to cool down tempers in South Asia, has been nudging India towards the talks table. But every time the issue is broached by Washington, Delhi makes it clear that till a conducive atmosphere is created, the dialogue would not be resumed.
Indian leaders have based their argument of not talking to Pakistan on three broad points. First, there will be no dialogue till the Musharraf regime gives up completely cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.
Second, as the US has not negotiated with the al Qaida or the Taliban or Saddam Hussain, it should not adopt double standards in South Asia by asking India to talk with Pakistan.
Third, the Indian leadership has argued that Pakistan’s sincerity in resuming a dialogue and normalising relations with Delhi is in serious doubt because it has not shown any flexibility in a simple thing like offering normal trade relations to India.