KARGIL CURTAIN LIFTS WITH TRANSPORT TEAM TO PAK 

Read more below

By FROM PRANAY SHARMA
  • Published 16.12.00
  •  
New Delhi, Dec. 16 :    New Delhi, Dec. 16:  India will send a delegation to Islamabad next month to participate in a transport committee meeting under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) though it has ruled out a summit in the near future. "Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh assured me yesterday that Delhi will be sending a delegation for the transport meet in Islamabad due to be held between January 6 and 7," Sri Lanka's foreign minister Lakshman Khadirgamar said here today. If the delegation leaves for Islamabad, it will be the first official Indian team to visit Pakistan after the Kargil flare-up. Colombo currently holds the chair of Saarc and is, therefore, keen to ensure the progress of the regional group. "Given the current relations between India and Pakistan, a summit-level meeting of the Saarc cannot be held in the foreseeable future. This is regrettable, but it is not a devastating blow to the Association," Khadirgamar said. "It is my firm belief that despite this, both India and Pakistan are committed to the progress of Saarc," he added. Khadirgamar briefed his Indian counterpart about the detailed time-schedule for the next few days drawn up by Saarc's technical committee. Both sides agreed that if the outcome of these meetings are positive, a session of the standing committee, which includes foreign secretaries of the seven member nations, may then be held in the first quarter of 2001. The last meeting of the standing committee was held in Sri Lanka's Nuwara Eliya in March 1999, which was followed by a meeting of Saarc foreign ministers. But having taken a stand against participating in a summit now, India has made it clear it will not block Saarc's day-to-day functioning, especially where economic issues are concerned. The decision to send a delegation to Pakistan for the transport committee meet stems from this policy. Khadirgamar, who also met Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, apprised him of the developments in the island and took the opportunity to assess Delhi's stand. Khadirgamar said he was happy India reiterated its stand that it "supports the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and a negotiated political settlement of the conflict". Khadirgamar made it clear Colombo was not keen on accepting prescriptions from any country for resolution of the conflict. But in an assurance to India, he said Sri Lanka "will not create a precedent in the region" by accepting the right to self-determination as a viable option to solve the problem. He argued that there is growing understanding and support in the international community that a solution to the ethnic problem needs to be found within the Constitution of the island-nation. "Perhaps even Prabhakaran (LTTE chief) has realised that the world has changed and there are no takers for a separate state anymore," he said. Khadirgamar clarified that there was no "designated role" for India to play in the ethnic strife in Lanka, but said Delhi was being apprised of all developments by the government and by the Norwegians, who have been acting as facilitator in bringing the warring groups to the talks table. On India's request for Prabhakaran's extradition, Khadirgamar said: "A request to this effect from Delhi is already on our table and there is no indication to suggest that there has been any shift in this position."