The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Progress propels PM to Pervez
Step by step, courtesy calls

Islamabad, Jan. 4: India and Pakistan have decided to maintain the momentum generated in their relations and are exploring ways to keep up the progress.

After talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali this afternoon, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked for a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf in the form of a courtesy call.

“The meeting will take place sometime tomorrow,” a Pakistani spokesman said.

Ahead of the meeting, however, the handshake took place before Musharraf and Vajpayee went into the banquet the Pakistan President hosted for the Saarc leaders tonight.

In his speech welcoming the guests, Musharraf pressed for expanding the Saarc charter to include bilateral issues and spoke of resolving disputes before forging ahead with economic development.

Both are contrary to India’s position, but the statement was not being read as an effort to take the recently-improved relations between the two countries one step back.

The President’s camp is said to be delighted with India’s request for a meeting.

This afternoon, when Vajpayee met Jamali after the inaugural session of the Saarc summit, the two agreed: “The momentum that has been created in our bilateral relations should be maintained.”

Although Indian officialdom is still drumming the Saarc tune and saying that a courtesy call merely displays “good manners”, the inevitable has happened. After much fancy footwork and encircling each other with proposals and counter-proposals, the ice has been broken. And after eight months of stoking the fire for peace through a slew of confidence building measures, some real warmth is entering the relationship.

Before the meeting, Vajpayee shook hands with Jamali for TV cameras and photographers.

“Let me tell you, Mr Vajpayee is holding my hand very, very firmly,” Jamali said with a smile.

The meeting was described by external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha as a courtesy call. It lasted about half an hour, of which the two leaders spent 15 minutes alone.

It was followed by Sinha calling on his Pakistani counterpart, foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri. “Both of us expressed satisfaction over our bilateral relations. We discussed various ways of maintaining this momentum and agreed on the need to do so,” Sinha said.

Sinha was unwilling to say whether this meant that the stalled dialogue between the two neighbours had finally begun.

“These are courtesy calls. We have come to Islamabad for the Saarc summit. Whenever our Prime Minister travels abroad for such summits, courtesy demands that he make such calls. He makes courtesy calls on the head of the state,” he said.

Sinha’s meeting with Kasuri lasted about 45 minutes. after the meeting, Kasuri told reporters that they had discussed several issues, including “regional and international issues”.

“This will help in the enhancement of bilateral relations,” he said.

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