The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pak shadow in Putin invite

New Delhi, Nov. 7: Vladimir Putin has sought a one-to-one meeting with Atal Bihari Vajpayee with an invitation to the Prime Minister to his dacha next week in what is being seen as yet another attempt by the Russian President to restart the stalled dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Vajpayee will be in Moscow from November 11 to 13 as part of his three-nation official tour. He will also visit Tajikistan and Syria.

The Prime Minister and his delegation will stay in a hotel in Moscow, but Putin has invited Vajpayee to his dacha on November 12 for an exclusive tête-à-tête. Later, the two sides are scheduled to meet for a delegation-level dialogue.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaders had traditionally invited guests from abroad to their dachas. But this practice has not been followed for some years ó at least with regard to Indian leaders.

Vajpayee had stayed in hotels during his earlier visits and conducted most of official engagements in the Kremlin. However, recently when President George W. Bush visited Moscow, Putin had invited him to his dacha. A similar invitation, considered an honour and a gesture of closeness, is now being extended to Vajpayee.

South Block believes this will be yet another attempt on Putinís part to bring Vajpayee back to the talks table with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

Talks between India and Pakistan at the highest political level have been stalled since the failed Agra Summit in the summer of 2001. Relations between the South Asian neighbours have nose-dived since, though attempts are now being made by Delhi to normalise relations with Islamabad.

The Russian President who attended the Organisation of Islamic Conference summit in Malaysia last month as an observer, had met Musharraf on the sidelines of the meet. The two leaders had spoken about India-Pakistan relations and Putin had assured Musharraf that he would convey to Vajpayee his message of peace.

Foreign ministry officials are not sure what the Pakistani President wants Putin to convey to the Prime Minister. Some feel Musharraf might have asked for a firm commitment from India to show substantive progress on Kashmir, promising in turn to take sincere steps to stop infiltration across the border and violence against Delhi.

The US and the European Union have both been urging Putin to use his influence over India to restart dialogue with Pakistan as this could lead to more stability in South Asia. Since May 1998, after both India and Pakistan decided to explode their nuclear veils, concerns have risen about an armed conflict between the neighbours turning into a nuclear war.

India maintains that it would not like intervention y a third party, including Russia, on its differences with Pakistan. It has clarified that, though it wishes for peace with Pakistan, a dialogue at the highest political level would not be possible unless Islamabad completely stops infiltration and dismantles its terror apparatus against Delhi.

There is nothing to suggest that India has shifted from its stated position. However, the forthcoming meeting between Vajpayee and Putin gathers significance as ó depending on Pakistanís proposal and more importantly its implementation ó there could be some forward movement in the relations between the hostile South Asian neighbours.

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