No request but Manmohan and Gilani may meet in Colombo

July 29th, 2008 - 3:51 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 29 (IANS) A meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the forthcoming Saarc Summit in Colombo cannot be ruled out though neither side has so far sought a meeting, officials here said Tuesday. Traditionally, the summit of leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) has given leaders of South Asia the opportunity to meet on the sidelines. But, more often than not, such meetings are scheduled at the last moment, an official in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said.

“Leaders of the Saarc countries have always met each other on the sidelines for a bilateral during the summit,” the official said, pointing out that such interactions on the sidelines were a regular feature at multilateral meetings.

“Please remember that a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf at the NAM Summit in Havana (in 2006) had been arranged at the last minute,” the official added.

South Block officials maintain that despite tensions between the two countries, it will be an extremely unusual step for the Pakistani prime minister not to meet his Indian counterpart in Colombo this weekend.

“Such meetings are scheduled a day or two before the summit,” the MEA official said. “We still expect a meeting between the two prime ministers to take place on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit.”

However, there is speculation in the Pakistani media that a meeting between the two leaders may not take place. Quoting a foreign ministry spokesperson, the Dawn newspaper said the meeting was unlikely.

“About the meeting between Prime Ministers Gilani and Singh, there is no confirmation,” Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Sadiq said at his weekly briefing in Islamabad Monday.

“I don’t think if there is even a proposal,” he added.

“Meetings between prime ministers on the sidelines of the South Asian summit have been a regular feature and they have been meeting even at the height of tensions,” the spokesperson maintained.

Sadiq’s statement was “a major sign of the stress in Pakistan-India relations”, Dawn said Tuesday.

The statement was a reference to the recent truce violations along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir for which India has accused Pakistani troops of opening fire in an attempt to push infiltrators across the frontier.

The most serious violation since the truce came into effect in 2003 occurred Monday when a group of Pakistani soldiers crossed over to the Indian side, leading to a skirmish that left five soldiers dead - one Indian and four Pakistani.

In the past weeks, strain has returned to India-Pakistan relations. Apart from tension along the LoC, Pakistan’s unhappiness is over the possibility of India getting its safeguards agreement through at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors meeting Aug 1 without much resistance.

Islamabad has expressed its opposition to it but feels most countries may not share its views in blocking the safeguards for India in Vienna later this week.

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