Friday, April 30, 2010

Mumbai’s long shadow finally recedes

THIMPHU: Pakistan and India agreed on Thursday to revive, without any precondition, the stalled dialogue when their prime ministers met for first direct talks in nine months on the sidelines of the 16th Saarc summit here.

Both sides termed the meeting between Yousuf Raza Gilani and Dr Manmohan Singh “very positive”.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi described the meeting as “warm, cordial and engaging”. He said that all issues, including Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen, were on the table. “All issues that are of concern are on the table and will be discussed,” Mr Qureshi said, adding that this was “a step in the right direction”.

“It (meeting) was very positive and concluded very positively. We have decided to move forward and have overcome suspension of the process,” he told reporters after the meeting.

The composite dialogue between the two countries was stalled by India after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in Nov 2008.

Mr Qureshi said the two sides had assured each other that they would not allow the use of their soil against each other. Mr Gilani assured the Indian prime minister that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks would be brought to justice.

Mr Qureshi said Mr Gilani had invited Mr Singh to visit Pakistan soon and that the Indian prime minister had accepted.

The two leaders acknowledged a trust-deficit between India and Pakistan and asked their foreign ministers “to bridge the gap and build confidence to take the process forward”.

Mr Qureshi said that the Indian home minister would attend a meeting of home ministers of Saarc states in Islamabad on June 26.

In reply to question about the next meeting between the two foreign ministers, he said that “we are ready to engage right now,” adding that he needed to contact his counterpart to know when he was ready.

About the issue of terrorism, the foreign minister said it was not confined to India and Pakistan, rather it was of concern to the region and the entire world.

“We need to adopt a common strategy to counter terrorism,” Mr Qureshi said. He quoted the Indian prime minister as saying that his country had no interest in destabilising Pakistan and meddling into its internal affairs.

“We assure you we do not want to meddle in your internal affairs,” Mr Singh was quoted as saying.

Water stress

Mr Qureshi said that moving forward was the only way to bring peace and stability to the region. He said the summit also recognised that the region was under water stress and needed a regional approach for water conservation and management.

He said the water dispute between Pakistan and India was an important and sensitive issue. “The issue will be on the table and there is a need to evolve a mechanism to address it.”

During their 90-minute meeting, the two prime ministers mandated their foreign ministers to draw up a roadmap for future talks.

India’s concern

The officials would work out ways to restore trust and confidence, “thus paving the way for a substantive dialogue on all issues of mutual concern,” Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters.

She said that Mr Singh was “very emphatic that Pakistan has to act, that the terror machine needs to be controlled, needs to be eliminated”.

Mr Gilani responded that Pakistan was as much a victim of terrorism as its neighbour.

Ms Rao said the foreign ministers and foreign secretaries had been asked to work out how to get fully fledged peace talks back on track.

“The two sides have agreed to meet as soon as possible,” she said, declining to give further details.

Ms Rao said that “the issue of terrorism is holding back progress” on normalising relations between the two countries.

She said that Mr Gilani had assured Mr Singh that Pakistan was “serious about prosecuting the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks and all efforts are being made to bring the trial to a speedy conclusion”.

He reassured that “Pakistan will not allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorist activity directed against India,” Ms Rao said.

The last time the two premiers sat down together was in July, on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Egypt. That meeting ended with a joint statement which appeared to alter India’s position that Pakistan must first crack down on militant groups before peace talks could take place. Mr Singh was pilloried at home for the move and as a result their next meeting, at the Washington summit earlier this month on nuclear security, went no further than a handshake and a cursory exchange of pleasantries.

In between, the two sides managed a meeting between their senior foreign ministry officials in February, which resulted in little more than a vague pledge to keep the doors to dialogue open.

The talks in Thimphu offered no timetable for when the two foreign ministers would meet, saying only that it would happen “as soon as possible”. —Agencies