The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Singh sends flowers, Aziz talks peace

New Delhi, Nov. 23: Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz made it clear during talks with foreign minister K. Natwar Singh this evening that his country would not pull out of the bilateral dialogue and wanted the peace process to continue.

The assurance was expected as India had assessed ' correctly ' that despite its displeasure over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's rejection of any further redrawing of India's geographical boundaries, Pakistan could ill afford to pull out of the talks at this juncture.

'Both leaders felt the composite dialogue process between the two sides should continue to move forward,' foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said after the meeting.

Aziz, who arrived here this afternoon on his first visit to India as Prime Minister, is accompanied by six ministers, three senators, seven members of the National Assembly, some editors of Pakistani newspapers and several reporters.

'The composition of my delegation reflects the desire of the Pakistani civil society to have peace with India,' he told the foreign minister. The ministers, senators and National Assembly members were present when Natwar Singh called on Aziz at the Taj Mahal hotel this evening.

Later, he met BJP president L.K. Advani, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and members of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

Aziz's most substantial engagement takes place tomorrow when he meets Manmohan Singh and his delegation. The host Prime Minister set the tenor of the meeting by sending Aziz a bouquet and calling to welcome him. 'I am looking forward to seeing you tomorrow,' Singh said.

Aziz will also call on President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, meet petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar ' possibly on the proposed Indo-Iran gas pipeline passing through Pakistan ' and hold talks with United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

During his meeting with Sonia, Aziz is expected to reiterate the invitation extended to her by President Pervez Musharraf to visit Pakistan.

But above all else, Aziz will be trying to gauge during his interactions with a host of Indian leaders, including of the Opposition BJP, whether there is consensus in Delhi on improving ties with Islamabad.

Aziz, the outgoing Saarc chairperson, today discussed ways and means the neighbours could adopt to strengthen regional cooperation. They reviewed progress made since the Islamabad summit this January and felt much more needed to be done, particularly on the proposed South Asian Free Trade Arrangement (Safta).

But the Pakistani Prime Minister's main thrust is bilateral issues, particularly how the peace process would be taken forward and resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Despite its disappointment with Manmohan Singh's recent statements in Srinagar, Pakistan does not want to be seen as a spoiler. Musharraf is under tremendous pressure from hardliners and fundamentalists and at this juncture cannot afford to open another front with India by pulling out of talks.

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