Islamabad, Jan. 5: Signalling a positive change in the India-Pakistan relationship, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today called on General Pervez Musharraf at the Aiwan-e-Sadr, the presidential palace. The two leaders, who met with their respective delegations for about an hour, decided to continue the ongoing process of normalisation of ties.
External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said: “Both leaders welcomed the recent steps taken for the normalisation of relations between the two countries and expressed the hope that the process would continue.”
Sinha did not rule out the two countries announcing some more confidence-building measures (CBMs). “I don’t think the possibility of further CBMs has been exhausted,” he said.
There was no one-to-one meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf. Sinha, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, foreign secretary Shashank and the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad, Shivshankar Menon, accompanied Vajpayee.
Stonewalling questions, Sinha said: “Anyone who says anything more than what I have said about the meeting at this stage is not doing any service to the cause. I am not in a position to go into details. It is not in the interest of the cause.”
Pakistan information minister Sheikh Rashid came in for an Indian reprimand for telling PTV that the two sides were “working on a joint statement”. Sinha dismissed it as “nothing more than speculation” and suggested that it was irresponsible to indulge in speculation.
Rashid later clarified his remarks to say he had simply meant India and Pakistan would issue statements.
Sinha claimed that there had been a definite forward movement. “The fact that the Prime Minister of India came to Islamabad to attend the Saarc summit; that he met the Prime Minister of Pakistan; that he met the President of Pakistan; that I met my counterpart and the Indian foreign secretary met his counterpart — that is progress.”
Rashid said: “The talks were comprehensive and intense (Jum kar baat hui. Dat kar baat hui). But our issues are more than 50 years old. So it would be wrong to say that all knotty issues have been resolved.”
A tremendous amount of backroom effort went on over the last four days for the meeting. Mishra, who had arrived in Islamabad two days ahead of Vajpayee, is believed to have held several quiet but high-powered meetings with the Pakistani establishment.
Sinha was asked whether he had any comments on the alleged meeting between Mishra and Lt General Ehsan-ul-Haq, the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). “I don’t think that is necessary,” he said.
Former Pakistan foreign secretary Niaz A. Naik had revealed on a TV channel that Mishra had discussed India’s “security concerns” with the ISI chief.
Before meeting Musharraf, Vajpayee had emphasised the need for India and Pakistan to understand each other’s difficulties. “The dialogue must continue. We must understand each other’s difficulties so that the path of working together is always kept open,” he said while laying the foundation stone of the second phase of the Indian high commission building.
Vajpayee said times were changing and new questions were cropping up and new answers sought. “I am confident that the building whose foundation I am laying will be strong and will be able to withstand the vagaries of weather. Come storm or rain, this building must be able to withstand them,” he said.
Vajpayee is given to using weather metaphors to describe India-Pakistan relations. Many here thought he was speaking about laying a new foundation for India-Pakistan relations.