Just neighbours at lunch

Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh. The author, Sanjaya Baru, is second from right. He was media advisor to the prime minister from 2004-08.

Sanjaya Baru in The Indian Express:

Musharraf’s public solicitation of an invitation from India was met with stunning silence from New Delhi. After waiting for a couple of days, the Indian media became restive for a response. Several journalists called me to find out if the PM was aware of Musharraf’s stated desire and whether he would invite the Pakistan president to come watch a match. I walked into the PM’s room in South Block and sought an answer. “I have been advised that this is not a good time for a visit because the budget session is going on”, the PM told me. “The foreign ministry will inform Pakistan that the visit can take place sometime later.”

I asked the PM if he and his diplomatic advisors had considered what headline they would get the next morning — “Musharraf wants to go to India to watch a cricket match. India says no!” The PM laughed and asked, “So what do you think we should do? You realise if he visits India, it will not be just to watch a cricket match but for formal discussions”. True, but for now Musharraf was only seeking an invitation to watch a cricket match. I urged the PM to invite him for the match and let things take their own course. If there is a meeting, so be it! He agreed and I could see he was quite willing to invite Musharraf and continue their conversation from where it had left off in September 2004.

The PM picked up the phone and summoned foreign secretary Shyam Saran and national security advisor M.K. Narayanan. Within minutes they joined us. “Sanjaya says I must invite Musharraf”, he told his two senior aides who already appeared unhappy to find me present at such a hurriedly convened meeting with the PM. Both of them stared at me with total disapproval, as if to say, “who are you to poke your nose into such matters of high national importance”.

Both rejected my advice. In the meanwhile, we were joined by the PM’s principal secretary T.K.A. Nair and secretary in the PMO, Pulok Chatterjee. I explained to them the logic of my advice to the PM. Both Nair and Chatterjee agreed with me. The PM turned to Saran and asked him to draft a letter of invitation to Musharraf. The meeting ended.

I was asked not to breathe a word to the media till the diplomats did their job of deciding date and venue, and getting a formal acceptance of the PM’s invitation from Islamabad. More:

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