Manmohan flies to Cuba to attend NAM Summit
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Manmohan flies to Cuba to attend NAM Summit

India is likely to play a major role in giving future direction to a movement of which many were ready to write its requiem.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2006 18:42 IST

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flies to Havana on Thursday evening for the 14th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) but that engagement is likely to be somewhat overshadowed by the media focus on his meeting there with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

Indian officials have been cagey on the exact date of the meeting but it is more likely to take place on Friday, which will also see the inaugural of the summit and bilateral meetings with many of the 116 heads of state and government who would be there.

Bilateral meetings already confirmed are with leaders of Iran (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad), Malaysia (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) and Sri Lanka (Mahinda Rajapaksa) but there would be other meetings as well.

India is likely to play a major role in giving future direction to a movement of which many were ready to write its requiem.

Both Manmohan Singh and National Security Adviser MK Narayanan have told accompanying media that cross-border terrorism would be the focus of the talks with Musharraf, who will have to stand by his repeated assurances of reining it if the peace process is to move forward.

But the very fact that the meeting is taking place is indication enough that a lot of back channel diplomacy has gone into it without media publicity.

A senior official even indicated that a satisfactory outcome of the meeting - from India's point of view - could result in resumption of the foreign secretary-level talks that got suspended following strong suspicion that Pakistan-based terror groups were complicit in July's train bombings in Mumbai that killed almost 200 people.

With Indian investigators coming up with no concrete proof yet to back up their suspicions, the government was under pressure from the peace lobby as well as the US and other Western powers not to jettison the composite dialogue process.

But with a large media contingent travelling with Manmohan Singh, the meeting will come under close scrutiny because, as he said, the government will have to carry public opinion for the peace process to succeed and any act of terrorism would only dampen the process.

The prime minister departs Brazil after his first visit here, leaving, in his own words, a "little bit of his heart behind".

He has developed a close rapport with Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil whom he called a "world statesman" and who is seeking re-election next month.

Brazil is likely to become a very important partner for India in the coming years, though a lot would depend on Lula getting re-elected.

There is a strong West-centric lobby in the ruling elite that doesn't want Brazil to go outside its traditional partners like the US and Europe.

But Lula has been instrumental in taking Brazil's foreign policy focus out of the American and European orbit and making South-South cooperation - in which ties with India will play a fulcrum role - central to it.

Brazil's importance to India, said Indian ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, lies in its "potential to provide us with our energy security and food security".

With its large landmass - it is more than two and a half times the size of India but uses only five percent of its arable land as its population is 180 million - and leading role as a foodstuff producer and in ethanol use as an alternative energy source, the two countries see exciting opportunities opening up for them.

First Published: Sep 14, 2006 18:42 IST