India-Pakistan thaw in the Russian summer

By Manish Chand, IANS,

Yekaterinburg : In the first sign of a thaw since the freeze in ties that followed the Mumbai terror attacks, leaders of India and Pakistan agreed to a meeting between their foreign secretaries before July 15 that will be focused solely on resolving the “primary issue of terrorism” that has strained their relations.

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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari held talks for 40 minutes, most of it one-on-one, that mostly focused on India’s concerns about terrorism emanating from across the border and Pakistan’s response to it.

Manmohan Singh, according to accounts, spoke bluntly and the message seemed to have gone home.

The two leaders agreed to have their foreign secretaries hold talks centred on cross-border terrorism and report to them about their progress before they meet again on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit July 15-16 in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Meeting for the first time after the Nov 26 Mumbai attacks that has been established as being the handiwork of Pakistan-based terrorists, the two leaders shook hands and smiled before television cameras. But even before they could sit down, Manmohan Singh told Zardari that India’s concerns over terrorism must be addressed if they were to progress.

“Excellency, I am pleased to meet you. But I have a limited mandate to tell you that the Pakistani territory can’t be used for acts of terror against India,” Manmohan Singh told Zardari in the meeting that was organised on the sidelines of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that both leaders are attending as observers.

Zardari looked slightly flustered, but soon the two letters settled down for one-one-one talks in the Silver Room of Hotel Hyatt Regency in the Russian city located on crossroads of Europe and Asia.

The prime minister told him he wished to see Pakistan fulfilling its assurance about not allowing its territory to be used for terrorist attacks against India, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters after the meeting.

India asked Pakistan “to act against perpetrators of past attacks and to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism,” Menon said.

The Pakistani president explained the steps taken to deal with this problem that his country itself was facing internally.

The meeting indicated a softening of tensions after months of bitter rhetoric and aggressive posturing after ten Pakistani nationals unleashed mayhem in Mumbai killing over 170 people.

Menon and his Pakistani counterpart Salman Basheer will discuss the issue of terrorism and what Pakistan is doing in this regard.

“We will then take stock of the situation,” Menon replied when the first meeting between foreign secretaries will pave the way for the normalization of the stalled composite dialogue. The two officials will report to their leaders, was all Menon would say.

The meeting took place amid fresh calls by Pakistan for resuming their “composite dialogue” that looks at the entire gamut of their stormy relationship.

“It will be a sensible thing to resume composite dialogue as soon as possible. It will be in mutual interest to do so,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters here.

Zardari has been keen that both countries resume their normalisation process, but New Delhi says it can only happen after Islamabad demonstrates resolve to eliminate the roots of terrorism that is directed against India from that country.