The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Slow trade blame on Pak

Bangkok, Oct. 9: India has blamed Pakistan for the tardy progress on trade among South Asian countries and the regionís inability to create a free trade zone even after so many years.

It has also questioned Islamabadís motives for joining the international coalition against terrorism, accusing Pakistan of pursuing double standards in fighting the menace. In doing so, India has also chided countries like the US, which, it said, have not been able to pressure Pakistan into destroying its terror apparatus.

This was made clear by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in two separate interviews given to the Thai media on the eve of his visit to the country. The Prime Minister did not name Pakistan in either interview, but it was clear he was targeting Indiaís neighbour.

Delhi today signed a number of agreements with Bangkok, including one on free trade. Thailand is the first country outside South Asia with which India has signed such a pact. Yesterday, it signed a framework agreement on trade and investment with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which aims at converting the region into a free trade area by 2011.

Vajpayee, who described the Indo-Thai agreement as a milestone, was asked why a similar arrangement could not work in South Asia.

ďThe major difference is that the India-Thailand free trade agreement looks like it will work, while the South Asia Free Trade Agreement and the South Asia Preferential Trade Agreement have not seen real progress solely because of the unreasonable obstructions of one South Asian country,Ē he replied.

The Prime Ministerís remarks assume significance since South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) officials are to meet in Kathmandu next week. The officials are meeting to finalise drafts for the South Asian preferential and free trade agreements.

India has accepted the January 4-6 dates suggested by Pakistan for next yearís Saarc summit in Islamabad. But though Delhi has not said so openly, it has hinted that the summit will be meaningless unless the South Asian nations forge closer trade and economic ties.

South Block has made it clear that even if Vajpayee travels to Islamabad, there will be no dialogue between him and Pakistani leaders on the summitís sidelines unless Pakistan moves to stop cross-border terrorism.

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