The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi tempers fallout of meet

New Delhi/Islamabad, Dec. 1: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali might meet for an exclusive session during next month’s Saarc summit in Islamabad if the host country makes such a request.

“After all, Pakistan will be the host nation and if it makes such a request it will be improper on our part to turn it down,” sources in Delhi said.

The sources, however, stressed that such a meeting should not be seen as the beginning of the stalled dialogue between the neighbours. “If the two leaders meet, they would probably discuss when official-level talks between India and Pakistan could begin,” they said.

Delhi also said that if such a meeting does take place, it would not be at the highest political level.

Traditionally, South Asian leaders meet each other on the sidelines of the Saarc summit. A few days ago, Vajpayee had said he would meet “everybody in Pakistan”.

Although no decision has been taken on the meeting, the slight shift in India’s position has come after Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf yesterday indicated that Islamabad would lift the ban on Indian flights through Pakistani air space. Delhi has been saying that successful completion of the talks on air links would be the first test of Pakistan’s desire for peace with India.

Air links between the two countries, snapped since the December 2001 Parliament attack, would resume from January 1. This was informally decided between Indian and Pakistani civil aviation officials who began two-day talks here this morning. The two sides are to work out the modalities of flight landings and overflight facilities.

“It is a breakthrough after months of inaction,” Pakistan foreign office spokesman Masood Khan said. But he added that Islamabad has dropped the proposal “for a mechanism that would ensure unilateral or abrupt suspension of overflight facility in future by India” to find out a “mutually acceptable ground for resumption of air links”. Suspension of the facility had caused inconvenience to travellers besides huge financial losses to airlines, asserted the spokesman.

The question bothering South Block is how relations between the two sides would progress once the summit is successfully held.

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