Report: Vajpayee hints he may meet Musharraf

  • AseanPlus News
  • Friday, 28 Nov 2003

NEW DELHI (AP) - India's prime minister indicated he may meet Pakistan's president when he attends a South Asian summit in Islamabad in January, a newspaper reported Friday.  

The two were briefly face-to-face early last year, but haven't had a formal meeting since June 2001. 

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was asked Thursday night whether he planned to meet with Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and he replied, "I will be meeting everyone,'' The Indian Express reported. 

Vajpayee routinely answers questions in such vague ways and often later says he was misquoted, so it was not possible to immediately confirm whether he meant he would meet with Musharraf. 

Leaders from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Maldives and Bhutan are scheduled to attend the summit of the South Asian Association of Regional Countries in Islamabad, Jan. 4-6, 2004. 

Vajpayee has already confirmed he will attend the meeting, but government officials have not been clear on whether he would speak to Musharraf. Vajpayee has shunned the Pakistani president at international meetings since a December 2001 attack on India's Parliament that he blames on Pakistan's spy agency and two militant groups based in Pakistan. 

Pakistan has condemned the attack and banned the two groups - which have since reformed under different names - but the two nations came close to war last year over the incident, which left 19 people dead including five unidentified attackers. 

But relations have improved since April with the restoration of ambassadors, the establishment of a bus link and, this week, the first full cease-fire between the nuclear-armed countries in 14 years - bringing a halt to incessant cross-bordering firing. 

Vajpayee and Musharraf last held formal talks in June 2001 in Agra, India, but the three-day summit broke down in disagreement over Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan but both claim in its entirety. 

The two leaders last encountered each other at a South Asian summit in Nepal in January 2002, just two weeks after the attack on India's parliament. 

Despite Vajpayee snubbing him earlier, Musharraf approached the Indian prime minister after giving a speech and shook his hand. 

However, they did not speak and have avoided each other at subsequent international fora. 

On Thursday, Vajpayee said he hoped to meet Pakistan's prime minister, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, with whom he has spoken on the phone. 

He also said he hoped the cease-fire that began at midnight on Tuesday, would continue. 

Indian soldiers fought a gunbattle with militants about two kilometers (one mile) from the border late Thursday and early Friday. 

At least three militants were killed, but Pakistani troops did not interfere. 

"This group was infiltrating from the Pakistan side. This is the first infiltration bid detected by the army since the cease-fire,'' said Indian army Northern Command spokesman, Col. R.K. Sen.  

He said three militants' bodies had been recovered and that the soldiers were searching for more. 

An officer at the police control room near the site, speaking on condition of anonymity, said however that the militants were trying to get out of India and back into Pakistan when the gunfight broke out. 

India in the past has accused Pakistani troops of providing covering fire for militants fighting for independence in India's portion of divided Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan. India also says Pakistan arms, trains and funds the militants. 

Pakistan has denied it gives more than diplomatic and moral support to the militants, many of whom are based in Pakistan or its portion of Kashmir. 

There is no cease-fire between the Indian forces and the militants, and at least 12 people died Thursday in a grenade attack on a busy marketplace and in battles between Indian troops and suspected rebels in villages along the frontier. - AP 

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