Meeting today with Indian premier

November 24, 2004

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NEW DELHI, Nov 23: Pakistan has conveyed its anxieties to India over a perceived rowing back from the September meeting of their leaders in New York, authoritative sources told Dawn on Tuesday.

They said Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is expected to thrash out the issue during a three-hour meeting scheduled with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday. The talks will signal the approaches to be adopted for the second round of the composite dialogue starting between the two countries next month, the sources said.

"The Pakistan side has a view that things have not moved forward as they had expected since President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a new hope to the peace process in New York. The Indian side wants them to know that their position has not changed since the meeting between the two leaders," a source close to the talks said.

According to some other sources that watched two separate meetings on Tuesday between Mr Aziz and former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Bharatiya Janata Party president Lal Krishan Advani, the issue of trust between the two countries had cropped up again.

"It was agreed at the meetings that the kind of confidence which Pakistan enjoyed with Mr Vajpayee as the Indian leader was required again to beef up relations between the two countries again," the sources said.

Mr Vajpayee was quoted as telling Mr Aziz to make the relationship more broad-based, and to take it beyond the 'Kashmir first' stance seen to be followed by Islamabad.

Mr Advani later told reporters that the two sides had a good meeting and discussed ways to improve ties between their countries. Mr Aziz has shunned the Indian media during his tour and he made a point of it at a dinner with leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, where the media were made to wait outside.

Ironically, but also understandably, some Indian officials appeared to be comfortable with this approach. They took the view that sensitive issues such as Kashmir could never be resolved in the glare of the media.

Coming to India as the outgoing chairman of Saarc, Mr Aziz will extend formal invitation to Dr Singh to attend the Saarc summit in Dhaka in January where Bangladesh will take over the chairmanship of the regional grouping.

Lack of infrastructure for faster movement of goods and people between India and Pakistan are among the issues India is set to raise during the dinner meeting on Wednesday.

Organised jointly by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Indian Industry, the discussions are likely to open up issues such as the MFN status that India seeks from Pakistan and the gas pipeline from Iran, via Pakistan.

"Both sides felt that the composite dialogue should continue to move forward and agreed to work for increased cooperation between India and Pakistan," an Indian foreign ministry spokesman said after a round of talks when Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh received Mr Aziz at the airport.

Mr Aziz's visit comes ahead of a series of official-level meetings lined up by the two countries in the next two months, including talks on the proposed bus link between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and the Khokhrapar-Munabao rail link connecting Rajasthan and Sindh.