The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Envoys back, neighbours nurture ties

New Delhi, Feb. 10: In a rare solidarity show, India and Pakistan today re-affirmed their desire not to lower the level of representation or reduce staff strength at the respective missions in Delhi and Islamabad. The countries indicated that sooner than later, the names of replacements for the expelled charge d’affaires and other staffers will be made known to the other side.

The agreement comes amid widespread speculation that the two countries were fast approaching a situation where they might be forced to close down their respective missions. Presently, the two missions are being headed by a political counsellor-level diplomat.

Even as the party of expelled diplomat and staff members was making its way to the Wagah border, Pakistan indicated that the modalities of the replacements would be worked out by the foreign ministries of the respective countries.

Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan today said Islamabad hoped to start “consultations” with India soon to work out the modalities for the replacement of the expelled diplomats. He pointed out that Pakistan had no plans to reduce the number of its personnel at its high commission in Delhi.

Earlier, there were indications that Islamabad — peeved at Delhi’s decision to expel its charge d’affaires — may not be in a hurry to give the name of Jalil Abbas Jilani’s replacement.

But today’s comments indicate that at least some efforts are being made by the nuclear neighbours to ensure that diplomatic ties are not snapped.

Pakistan had suggested the name of Munawar Bhatti as a replacement for Jilani in November last year. But Delhi has not approved the name so far as Islamabad has not yet processed the visa application of T.C.A. Raghavan, whose name was put up as a replacement for Sudhir Vyas since July last year.

“Once the name of Raghavan is cleared, we will also start processing the application of Bhatti,” a senior South Block official said this evening.

Vyas was in favour of keeping the two missions going. “Economic ties have reduced considerably between the two countries. Visa-exchanges do take place, but their level has dropped. But a political presence of having our flag in Pakistan is very important,” he said, soon after crossing over at the Wagah border this afternoon. But he was quick to acknowledge that diplomats had “limited scope” in playing a significant role in improving India- Pakistan relations.

Four others — Rahul Rasgotra, M.R. Balu, Ranbir Singh and S.R. Anand — staffers at the Indian high commission in Islamabad, who were expelled along with Vyas, also crossed over this afternoon. A domestic help of Vyas, Vinod Kumar, was also in the team that came to Wagah from Islamabad by car.

Expelled Pakistani charges d’affaires Jilani drove down to the border in his flag car.

The other four expelled staffers of the Pakistani mission in Delhi — Habib-ur-Rahman, Aftab Ahmed, Abdul Razzak and Mohammad Nazir — came to Wagah by train and then joined Jilani.

Jilani, who was asked to leave on charges of distributing money to terrorists based in Kashmir, said he was being framed.

“The charges against me are false and the motivation behind it is the continuation of India’s policy to project Pakistan in a certain light and to term the Kashmir struggle as a terrorist movement,” the expelled diplomat said before leaving Delhi.

Stressing on the need for talks, Jilani felt that “as long as bilateral relations remain as an extension of the domestic policy, we cannot really achieve any progress”. “We will have to de-link it in case we wish to resolve the outstanding issues.”

Vyas, however, fell shy in matching Jilani on rhetoric. “If there is a political will and a genuine desire going beyond statements to show some positive movement on the ground, sure India will respond positively. This has been our stand and this is what we look for in the future.”

The Indian diplomat argued that the main reason for the on-going conflict between the two countries was because of the “ widening gulf” between Pakistan’s military rulers and the common people on the issue of improving ties with Delhi. He said the conflict arose from the military establishment’s deliberate attempts to downplay the commonality of culture that bind India and Pakistan.

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