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HindustanTimes Fri,25 Jul 2014

Why PM's Pak visit remained on the cards

Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, March 24, 2014
First Published: 00:21 IST(24/3/2014) | Last Updated: 00:25 IST(24/3/2014)

Since the time he took over as Prime Minister in May, 2004, there have been umpteen speculations on Manmohan Singh's plans to visit Pakistan, particularly in the vociferous media of the two estranged neighbours. The truth is, however, slightly different.

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Senior officials of the PMO say the only time that PM's visit to Islamabad looked workable was during 2005-2006 when an agreement on Kashmir, worked through the back-channels with the then President Gen Pervez Musharraf, looked imminent. "Once Musharraf, through his interlocutor, conveyed in March 2007 that Kashmir agreement could not be worked out due to crisis in Pakistan, this window was closed.

Many a times, PM's first ever visit to Pakistan has been discussed internally but he always queried back on conducive conditions and substantive bilateral outcomes," said an official on condition of anonymity.

Between Musharraf's hand-picked envoy Tariq Aziz and Singh's envoy Satinder Kumar Lambah, both countries had quietly worked towards an agreement over Kashmir, which would make the Line of Control (LoC) redundant without making any cartographical changes. The deal apparently was to promote movement across the borders for J&K residents and set-up platforms for promoting tourism and trade in the state. Although Musharraf has talked about this agreement in public, New Delhi saw this deal as a window for Singh's visit to Islamabad late 2005 or early 2006, possibly to Gah in Punjab, where he was born. But this deal never materialised as crisis hit Pakistan in 2007.

In March 2007, the Pakistani interlocutor is understood to have conveyed to his Indian counterpart that the deal would have to be put on hold as Musharraf was embroiled in a battle with Chief Justice IM Chaudhary with judiciary up in arms in the entire country. Apart from the debilitating match with Pakistan's Supreme Court, Musharraf was faced with high militant threat from Lal Masjid and return of Benazir Bhutto that year. "Given the domestic crisis at hand, Pakistan backed out on the Kashmir deal," an official said.

However, between January 2004 and March 2007, South Block officials admit that Musharraf did take action against jihadist targeting India.

This included closing down Lashkar-e-Taiba camps in Punjab, rehabilitating militants as well as reining in Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar.

Even as Singh prepares to exit 7 Race Course Road and jihadists await melting of snow to infiltrate Kashmir, top PMO officials recall what could have been a game-changer in India-Pakistan ties.


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