Kashmir Not On Gilani's Visit Agenda28 March 2011
Islamabad: The government tried on Monday to contain the diplomatic scoop of upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the eve of the World Cup semi-final on Wednesday. Briefing newsmen after a cabinet meeting, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said that primarily the prime minister was going to watch the Pakistan-India cricket match, and 'not to discuss the Kashmir issue', but she hastened to add that the two prime ministers could discuss anything on the occasion. In reply to a question, she said the Foreign Office and Pakistan's High Commission in New Delhi were working to fully utilise the occasion for improvement of relations between the two countries. She said that the occasion would be utilised to bridge the communication gap between the leaderships of the two countries through this gesture of goodwill of the Indian government. She said Prime Minister Gilani believed that the invitation was a significant way forward on the diplomatic front and the government had accepted it in the larger interest of the country. Since Friday when Prime Minister Singh extended the invitation to Mr Gilani to join him at Mohali to witness the World Cup semi-final, political pundits, in particular, and the media, in general, have been terming it a major development towards friendly relations between the two countries. After the Mumbai attacks, India had suspended the composite dialogue with Pakistan. Asked if the government had taken the security establishment and opposition parties into confidence before accepting the invitation of the Indian prime minister, the minister said all stakeholders had been taken on board. But the Awami National Party, which is part of the federal government, was not sure if the prime minister had talked to the leaders of other political parties about his trip to India. The minister said because of limited availability of tickets for the match, the government could not take as many people to Mohali as it wanted. Everything will become clear by Tuesday about the composition of the prime ministerial entourage and the issues which could be discussed during the meeting, she said. Ms Firdous said the keenness to accompany the prime minister was such that she too would have missed the trip had she not been information minister. The government was still trying its best to accommodate more people, but it all depended on how many guests the Indian authorities allowed, she added. She refused to get into the controversial statement made by Interior Minister Rehman Malik that the intelligence agencies were monitoring members of the national cricket team so that match-fixing didn't happen. “Once head of the federal cabinet, Prime Minister Gilani, is himself going to India to buck up our team, the statement by one minister shouldn't demoralise the players,” she said. The information minister said the cabinet had formally approved a decision for reopening the conviction of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. President Asif Ali Zardari would file a reference in the Supreme Court, she added. In reply to a question, she said the PPP government was under immense pressure to reopen the case and the federal law minister would hold a special press conference to apprise the media about legal issues. She said the government had formally endorsed devolution of five more federal ministries - culture, education, dairy and livestock, social welfare and special education, and tourism - under the 18th Amendment. The federal government has so far devolved 10 ministries to the provinces. She said chairman of the implementation committee Senator Raza Rabbani would brief newsmen on devolution on Tuesday. The minister said instead of going ahead individually on the issue of desecration of the Holy Quran by an American pastor, the government had asked other Muslim countries for a collective response for which the Organisation of Islamic Conference was a suitable forum. In reply to a question, Ms Firdous said neither had the government received any request from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or any other Middle Eastern country, as reported in the media, nor had it discussed any proposal for sending Pakistan army troops to these countries. She said the government had not only protested to the US but also to other members of Nato over the killing of innocent people in drone attacks. APP adds: The information minister expressed the confidence that cricket diplomacy would pave the way for the resumption of composite dialogue between Pakistan and India. She said that the media would be briefed regarding the prime minister's visit before his departure to Mohali. Dr Firdous remarked that she believed that there was a need to encourage people-to-people contacts and the government had directed the Pakistan High Commission for ensuring visas for journalists, but the Indian authorities declined by saying that there was lack of space. However, she said that the Indian side had welcomed the visit of all those having match tickets. The minister said the cabinet endorsed several memorandums of understanding with different countries, including an MoU with Tajikistan for extending bilateral cooperation in the health sector. She said the cabinet approved an MoU with Sri Lanka for development of the agriculture sector. The meeting also discussed the TB control programme in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, she added.