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Leaders begin arriving in Islamabad for SAARC Summit

Prime Ministers of Nepal and Bhutan, Surya Bahadur Thapa and Lyonbo Jigmi Thilley were among the first to arrive.

world Updated: Jan 03, 2004 14:11 IST

With optimism running high following agreements on free trade and on tackling terrorism, SAARC leaders began arriving in Islamabad for their summit amidst unprecedented security.

Prime Ministers of Nepal and Bhutan, Surya Bahadur Thapa and Lyonbo Jigmi Thilley were among the first to arrive for the three-day summit of the seven-member regional bloc beginning on Sunday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali warmly greeted the guests at the airport. Also present was Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri and senior diplomats of the countries.

The leaders were accorded a ceremonial guard of honour from the three services as a 21 gun salute boomed and national anthems were played.

The capital city of Islamabad has received a costly face-lift and virtually turned into a fortress with security personnel and commandos deployed at strategic points as also the hills overlooking the city and army helicopters flew low keeping a strict vigil.

The summit is being held within a month of two assassination attempts on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on December 14 and 25.

There are reports that Vajpayee may meet Musharraf on January six at the conclusion of the SAARC meeting and have an interaction with Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali on January five but there is no official confirmation of these.

Indian officials view as a significant development the agreement on the additional Protocol on the regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism signed in 1987. The Protocol ratifies various obligations like choking of funds to terrorists and giving them refugee status by countries undertaken under the UN auspices. The issue had eluded consensus following sharp differences on the definition of terrorism.

Also of New Delhi's interest has been the positive response from Islamabad to the Indian proposal of a South Asian Economic Union and a single currency. Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan it was a good long-term objective but felt that such a proposal could materialise only after bilateral disputes were resolved.

The three-day summit commencing on Sunday here at the Jinnah Convention Centre is being held amidst unprecedented security.

There are reports that Prime Minister Vajpayee may meet President Musharraf on January six at the conclusion of the SAARC meeting and have an interaction with Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali on January five but there is no official confirmation of these.

Indian officials view as a significant development the agreement on the additional protocol on the regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism signed in 1987. The protocol ratifies various obligations like choking of funds to terrorists and giving them refugee status by countries undertaken under the UN auspices. The issue had eluded consensus following sharp differences on the definition of terrorism.

Also of New Delhi's interest has been the positive response from Islamabad to the Indian proposal of a South Asian Economic Union and a single currency. Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan it was a good long-term objective but felt that such a proposal could materialise only after bilateral disputes were resolved.

Expecting a positive outcome, External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha told reporters on Friday that a successful SAARC Summit could help in rubbing off some of the negative features of Indo-Pak relations.

However, he dismissed a suggestion that inclusion of Iran and China into the South Asian grouping would bring a "balance" against India. In fact, India's size and its huge market could be taken advantage of by the member nations, he said citing the benefits drawn by Sri Lanka and Bhutan because of their trade pacts with New Delhi.

The summit, taking place after a year's delay, will kick off with the inaugural address by Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali followed by the speeches of Heads of Government and State from India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh Maldives and Nepal.

On Monday, the leaders go into a retreat at Jamali's expansive residence in the city overlooking the picturesque Margalla ranges. The retreat venue was shifted from the Murree Hills in the light of heightened security threats after two recent unsuccessful attempts on the life of President Musharraf.

This will be Vajpayee's visit to Islamabad in 27 years after his trip as External Affairs Minister in Morarji Desai Government and second to Pakistan in five years after the famous Lahore bus journey.