Indian PM welcomed in Pakistan for historic visit


ISLAMABAD: Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee arrived in Pakistan on Saturday for the first time in nearly five years ahead of a South Asian summit seen as a historic opportunity for the nuclear rivals to build on peace moves. 

Vajpayee shook hands and exchanged a few words with his Pakistani counterpart Zafarullah Khan Jamali as he got off his plane in Islamabad, less than two years after the two nations went to the brink of war. 

After listening to their national anthems, the leaders smiled and chatted briefly before clasping one hand together and turning to wave at the assembled cameramen and photographers. 

It was Vajpayee's first visit to Pakistan since a summit in Lahore in February 1999. Since then the two sides have almost come to war twice over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. 

In 2002, around a million troops were massed on the border after an attack on the Indian parliament which Delhi blamed on Pakistan-backed militants. Islamabad denied the charge. 

The leaders of the seven SAARC nations, which also include Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, are expected to sign an agreement to set up a free trade area in their region which is home to 1.4 billion people, about a fifth of humanity. 

Diplomats say the immediate economic benefits of the trade deal might be limited since South Asian nations mostly trade with countries outside the region. 

But they say the deal is of huge political significance and will help to boost ties between India and Pakistan. 

SAARC rules do not allow discussion of bilateral issues at the summit and a major breakthough on Kashmir is unlikely. But Pakistan is using the sidelines to push for an agreement to resume mid-level talks. 

Before leaving New Delhi, Vajpayee ruled out bilateral talks with Pakistan during his visit but said regional economic co-operation could help improve bilateral ties. 

“In Islamabad there will be no bilateral talks because we want to use the entire time and energy to make SAARC successful,” Vajpayee told state television on Saturday. 

“If this meeting is completed successfully and it opens the way for future co-operation then it will have good results and it will help resolve other issues,” he said. – Reuters  

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