Islamabad, Sept. 17: Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri has dropped his plan to visit Delhi after “inappropriate remarks by the Indian foreign minister Yashwant Sinha” as relations between the two countries took a dip from the earlier optimism about a resumption of dialogue.
Kasuri had intended to come to Delhi to deliver an invitation to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for a summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) scheduled to be held in Islamabad in January.
On the day Pakistan announced Kasuri’s plan, India responded by indicating that he would be an unwelcome guest. Foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said on Monday India had already accepted the invitation and there was no need for a visit by Kasuri — though he did not name names — to “reinforce” it.
If that were not enough, Sinha said foreign ministers do not go around delivering invitations to heads of government because other diplomatic channels are available.
“Inappropriate remarks by (the) Indian foreign minister, objecting to Kasuri’s visit to Saarc capitals in complete disregard to the eastern traditions of hospitality, forced (the) Pakistan government to do away with the proposed visit,” foreign office spokesman Masood Khan said.
“It is regrettable... the letter of invitation to the Indian Prime Minister will now be sent through diplomatic channels as suggested by Mr Sinha,” Khan said.
Kasuri has already visited Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka and delivered invitations to the respective heads of government. He was planning to visit India, Bhutan and Maldives in the second half of October.
Pakistan and India re-embarked on a normalisation process in April after Vajpayee offered a hand of friendship and vowed to end the tensions which mounted to an unprecedented level following an armed attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, bringing the two countries to the verge of military conflict.
Observers believe that the Saarc summit may well be in doldrums because India might again boycott the meet as it did twice — first in 2000 when the summit was to be held in Colombo and in 2002 when Pakistan was to be the host.
Islamabad appears to fear as much. The foreign office said Sinha’s statement “confirmed the apprehensions of all Saarc countries that India was not only disinterested in the Saarc process but also had no intention of engaging Pakistan in a dialogue to resolve all outstanding disputes, including the core issue of Jammu & Kashmir”.
Pakistan’s announcement of Kasuri’s plan to visit Delhi and India’s immediate snub came in the backdrop of a rash of militant strikes in Kashmir. Acceptance of the trip in the context might have been seen as a sign of weakness on the part of Delhi domestically.
In any case, by allowing a high-ranking Pakistani leader to come, India does not want to give the impression — or permit Islamabad to claim — that talks have resumed.