M A I N   N E W S

Need step-by-step roadmap to take ties forward, India tells Pak
Terror continues to dominate talks as Manmohan meets Zardari at NAM Summit
Raj Chengappa writes from Tehran

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari sat down to talk on the sidelines of the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) late Thursday evening, they both appeared keen on avoiding a sense of deja vu. For, at the previous NAM Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009, the two leaders tried to take a big step forward in the relations between the two countries only to fall flat and face domestic flak for conceding too much.

Rather than any Olympic leap of faith, the two leaders chose to avoid dramatic pronouncement s and stuck to a measured “step-by-step approach” on key issues. Both agreed that such an approach would have the “best chance to succeed”. The two leaders hoped that when the foreign ministers of the two countries meet in early September to review the progress of the current round of structured talks they would “evolve a roadmap to take the relations forward”.

Coming against the backdrop of fresh charges against Pakistan-based entities launching a cyber-warfare campaign that resulted in people from the North-East fleeing Indian metros, containing terror continued to dominate talks between the two leaders. The fact that the Supreme Court had on Wednesday upheld the death sentence of Ajmal Kasab, one of the key accused in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, also meant that Pakistan would be on the back foot on the subject.

Manmohan Singh reiterated what he told Zardari when he was on a private visit to Delhi this April — India would judge the sincerity of Pakistan by the actions it took on curbing terror. In that context, he mentioned that India was looking forward to the “expeditious and successful” conclusion of the ongoing trial in Pakistan against the main accused in the 26/11 blasts.

Manmohan Singh told Zardari that action to curb terror, “would be a major confidence building measure” and help bridge the trust deficit between the two countries. The Pakistan President reiterated his country’s commitment to speed up the process of bringing to book those accused in 26/11 while expressing some of the difficulties his own country faced on the terror front. Rather than meet one-on-one as they did in Sharm el- Sheikh, both discussed issues with their respective delegations present throughout the 40-minute meeting.

Interestingly, Pakistan’s delegation consisted of Bilawal Bhutto, Zardari’s son and the chairperson of the ruling Peoples’ Party of Pakistan (PPP), apart from Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Manmohan Singh was assisted by External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.

Zardari repeated his invitation to the Prime Minister to visit Pakistan at the earliest. Manmohan Singh said he would be happy to go there at “a suitable time” and was looking forward to a “well prepared visit” with a “substantial outcome.”

On a happier note, the leaders acknowledged that progress had been made on the trade and economic front and saw “vast potential for cooperation and enhancement.” They looked forward to completion of the three agreements on customs, standards and dispute resolutions for trade between the two countries.

Zardari proposed that there should fresh focus on regional cooperation on economic issues. He said Pakistan “could be a catalyst” for such an endeavour; something the Indian Prime Minister roundly endorsed. The two sides reiterated that they looked forward to progress on the economic front as well as on other issues when the foreign ministers meet and the Third Round of the resumed dialogues begins.

After the meeting with Zardari, the Prime Minister held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The two sides reviewed the “close economic relationship” between them. India wished Afghanistan all success in the ongoing “transition process” and reiterated it would stand by Afghanistan during this critical period.





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