New Delhi, June 1: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani is set for a high-level official visit to the US this month that assumes significance against the backdrop of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace overtures to Pakistan.
The visit is important in another aspect, too. Advani’s trip to the US last year was as India’s home minister. His main host then was attorney-general John Ashcroft.
This time, he would go there as the country’s deputy Prime Minister, invited by the No. 2 in the George W. Bush administration — Vice-President Dick Cheney. “This trip is at a much higher level and shows the importance Washington is giving to the Indian deputy Prime Minister,” a senior Indian official said.
Advani’s 10-day trip from June 7 will cover the US and the UK. He will spend five days in America where, apart from interacting with key figures of the Bush administration in Washington, he will visit New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
The deputy Prime Minister will also meet members of the Indian community in each city and is scheduled to deliver a few lectures to select audiences.
Officials said though terrorism would be the big issue, as it was last year, the discussions this time would be much broader with the man the US sees as likely to take over from Vajpayee whenever the Prime Minister calls it a day.
Advani, too, realises that it is essential to know top US leaders if he hopes to step into Vajpayee’s shoes one day.
There are, as yet, no details of who he would meet, but officials say he will “interact with all senior leaders of the Bush administration available in Washington while he is there”. The main discussions will be with the Vice-President. But if national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld or secretary of state Colin Powell are in town, Advani will certainly meet them.
As terrorism will be an important area of discussion, Advani will also meet FBI director Robert Mueller and heads of other US investigative agencies.
There is no word yet about a courtesy call on President Bush, but indications suggest, if he is in town, there may be an interaction, no matter how brief.
At a time when Washington is keen to bring down tensions between South Asia’s two nuclear neighbours, the Bush administration would like to know Advani’s views on engagement with Pakistan. The President and his men are likely to put across US’ fears about the dangers of a nuclear face-off in an area which former US President Bill Clinton had described as the “most dangerous place in the world”.
There is a perception in the US that Advani is a hardliner vis-à-vis Pakistan while Vajpayee is a man of peace. So the US administration would like to get a first-hand detailed brief from the deputy Prime Minister about his views on Vajpayee’s peace initiative.
Advani has supported Vajpayee’s move but is reportedly responsible for the rider that cross-border violence has to end before any meaningful engagement with Islamabad.
So he is certain to put across his concerns about cross-border infiltration, and Pakistan’s continuing support to militants.
Advani will try to explain to the Bush administration that public opinion in India would make it difficult for the government to take the path of peace unless terrorism stops. The public outrage after the attack on Parliament is a case in point.