New Delhi, Dec. 27: Atal Bihari Vajpayee will travel to Islamabad for the Saarc summit next month, underscoring India’s “commitment” to the South Asian forum, but the men tasked with protecting him have decided to carry their own security gadgets.
Foreign secretary Shashank ended all speculation when he said the Prime Minister would go ahead with the trip despite the recent attempts on President Pervez Musharraf’s life.
“President Musharraf has said that he was the target and not the leaders who would be visiting Islamabad for the summit,” Shashank said this afternoon. “India has a commitment to push forward the Saarc process and, therefore, the Prime Minister will attend the forthcoming summit in Islamabad.”
But it was also made known that no meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf has been fixed, and nor would any substantial dialogue between the two sides be possible till cross-border terrorism stops completely and Islamabad dismantles its “terror apparatus”.
The decision not to back out of the three-day summit — which begins on January 4 — came at a meeting that national security adviser Brajesh Mishra held with the Special Protection Group and others involved with the Prime Minister’s travel plans.
It was decided that Vajpayee would travel to Islamabad, as backing off at this late stage could set India back diplomatically, but a number of measures should be taken to beef up security as long as the Prime Minister is in Pakistan.
One of the recommendations was Vajpayee’s security officials carry their own jammers to block electronic signals used to detonate explosives. India had earlier requested Pakistan to keep some jammers on standby. It has also asked for sanitising a far wider area than is usual.
India has submitted its proposals to Pakistan regarding changes it wants. Given the circumstances and the rising security concerns in Pakistan, it is likely that Islamabad will agree to the suggestions.
Officially, Pakistan said it has not received any request for extra security but added that if anyone wants, “we will welcome it and try to satisfy them”.
Shashank expressed hope that the South Asian Free Trade Agreement, which has been under negotiation for years and could not progress because of Pakistan’s reluctance, would be signed at the summit.
“Though a few loose ends still remain, there is a very good chance of the free trade agreement being signed as in the past few weeks we have made substantial progress on the front of economic and trade cooperation,” he said.
The foreign secretary said terrorism and measures to counter it would be one of the main subjects of discussion. In view of Bhutan’s decision to take action against Northeast insurgents based in its territory, he said all member countries could also reach an agreement on taking similar action against terrorists.
Although no meeting has so far been fixed between Vajpayee and Musharraf, Delhi does not rule out the possibility once the Prime Minister reaches Islamabad. In Islamabad, a senior official said Musharraf and Vajpayee are likely to shake hands.