Peace bid likely to get fresh impetus: Musharraf-Manmohan meetingNEW YORK, Sept 19: President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who will meet here later this week, expressed willingness on Sunday to give impetus to the peace process and a desire to resolve the festering Kashmir dispute.
Their departure statements in Islamabad and New Delhi appeared to be aimed at preparing the ground for positive talks, but officials from both sides here ruled out a major breakthrough in the first meeting between the two South Asian leaders.
Gen Musharraf and Mr Singh will meet for the first time on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly after their talks with US President George Bush who is expected to ask them to remain engaged in the dialogue to resolve their disputes.
Before leaving Islamabad for New York, President Musharraf said: "I look forward to it (meeting) and I look forward to its becoming a wholesome meeting, dealing with all issues ... including Kashmir."
Mr Singh, who left for Britain enroute to New York, observed: "A meeting with President Musharraf is envisaged. This will be a further step in the ongoing dialogue process with Pakistan."
A place and time for the first meeting are yet to be determined by both sides. According to one report, Gen Musharraf and Mr Singh are to meet on Thursday (Sept 23), but the Indians say that the meeting will now take place on Friday.
Pakistani officials said the contact should provide a boost to negotiations over the divided Himalayan state. Since January, Delhi and Islamabad have been holding peace talks aimed at reducing hostilities. But despite some improvement in trade and transport ties, the dialogue has done little to ease tensions over Kashmir.
In the latest gesture, India said on Saturday it had eased visa rules for accredited Pakistani journalists, academics, doctors accompanying patients, and people over 65.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan welcomed the step and said Islamabad would respond to it. "We appreciate the spirit behind these steps which is for the promotion of people-to-people contact of both the countries," he said.
According to sources here, President Bush in his talks with President Musharraf on Wednesday will appreciate Pakistan's 'invaluable' help in the global war against terrorism but will also press him on the primacy of "fully functional democracy" in Pakistan.
The president's uniform became an issue for the Bush administration after Information Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed's statement suggesting that President Musharraf will remain army chief beyond December this year.
President Bush's decision to meet the two South Asian leaders, despite his preoccupation with the November election, shows US interest in the region. Policy-makers in Washington have publicly acknowledged that they cannot win the war against terror without Pakistan's cooperation, and in a recent statement, a State Department official made it clear that the US wanted Pakistan to keep its forces in the tribal areas where it believes Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders are hiding.
Officials in the Bush administration also realize that any deterioration of relations between the two South Asian neighbours will force Pakistan to bring its troops back to the Indian border, moving it from the tribal areas.
Such concerns force the Bush administration to stay engaged in the peace process between India and Pakistan. The extent of US interest in this process can be gauged from the fact that Secretary of State Colin Powell called both Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers a day before they began their talks in New Delhi.
In a recent interview to New York's India Abroad newspaper, Mr Bush said peace and security in South Asia would be high priorities in his second term. India and Pakistan are well aware of the stakes involved in the bilateral relationship. "We are particularly concerned about the nuclear risk, as we want to be helpful," he said.
Recently, the State Department made it clear that the United States was "100 per cent" behind President Musharraf in his endeavours to fight terrorism and capture the haunted terrorists.
The United States has said it will fully back any action that President Musharraf takes to capture Osama bin Laden and that there's no doubt about Pakistan's commitment to fight terrorism.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said this when asked at a briefing last week whether the US administration was 100 per cent behind Gen Musharraf's efforts to catch Bin Laden. "Let me put it the same perhaps quickly. Yes," said Mr Boucher.
President Musharraf will be addressing the 59th Session of the UN General Assembly on Sept 22. His agenda includes interaction with American think-tanks and media as well as leading members of the US business community.
He will attend a special meeting convened by the President of Brazil to consider new sources to finance development. President Musharraf will also visit Washington DC at the invitation of the members of a caucus on Pakistan established by a group of Congressmen in Washington. The president will meet members of the Pakistani community in Washington and attend a gala event in New York to raise funds for human development in Pakistan.
Our staff reporter adds from Islamabad: President Musharraf left for the United States early Sunday morning accompanied by Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khusru Bakhtiar and senior government officials.
According to sources here, the president in his address to the UN General Assembly, will highlight Pakistan's position on regional as well as international issues, including the situation in South Asia, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East; security and disarmament issues, terrorism, and issues relating to finance and development.
The president will later undertake a four-day visit to the Netherlands and Italy. He is expected to return home on Sept 29, the sources said. The president is scheduled to hold a tripartite meeting with US President Bush and interim President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai on Sept 21. The following day, he will have a breakfast meeting with President Bush.
General Musharraf will also hold a meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Besides, he is expected to hold bilateral talks with Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, French President Jacques Chirac and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.