In his first bilateral meeting with visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Narendra Modi struck a pragmatic note, underlining India’s concerns on terrorism, and asked Islamabad to “abide by its commitments” to prevent its territory from being used for terrorist activities.
Modi also asked Sharif to take the “necessary steps” to expedite the 26/11 trial in Pakistan, and secure conviction of the accused.
Sharif, according to a statement issued after the meeting on Tuesday, said that the two countries must strive to change “confrontation into cooperation”. “Engaging in accusations and counter-accusations would be counter-productive, I emphasized,” the Pakistan PM said about the meeting.
Sharif recalled his invitation to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lahore in February 1999, and told Modi that he intended to pick up the threads of the Lahore Declaration from where it had to be left in the October of that year.
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“We also agreed that the two foreign secretaries would be meeting soon to review and carry forward our bilateral agenda in the spirit of our meeting today,” he said.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, briefing reporters about the meeting, said the two sides had decided that the foreign secretaries would remain “in touch” on how to move forward.
The last foreign secretary-level talks on bilateral issues took place in Islamabad in September 2012. They have since met only on the sidelines of multilateral meetings, the last of which was in New York in September last year.
Singh, who was present at the talks, said the 45-minute meeting between Modi and Sharif — who spoke in a mix of Hindi and English — was “very constructive”, as both sides were trying to address each other’s concerns.
The meeting was also attended by External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Nripendra Mishra, High Commissioner to Islamabad TCA Raghavan and other senior officials.
From the Pakistani side, Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Choudhary and other senior officials were present.
While the Pakistani side appeared gung-ho and optimistic about the meeting, the Indian side was more realistic about its expectations, and cautious about the outcome.
For the new Indian government, Pakistan’s delivery on three issues — 26/11 trial, terror, and trade — would be the major markers for improvement in relations, sources said.
Sharif described the meeting as “good and constructive”, held in a “warm and cordial” atmosphere. “We agreed that our meeting in New Delhi should be a historic opportunity for both our countries. I pointed out that we were at the beginning of our respective tenures, with a clear mandate. This provides us the opportunity of meeting the hopes and aspirations of our peoples that we will succeed in turning a new page in our relations. The one and a half billion people of the two countries want us to focus on their well-being and welfare,” he said.
Foreign Secretary Singh summed up the talks from the Indian perspective: “We want peaceful and friendly relations with Pakistan.
However, for such relations to proceed, it is important that terror and violence is brought to an end.”
“Prime Minister underlined our concerns related to terrorism… It was conveyed that Pakistan must abide by its commitments to prevent territory under its control for being used for terrorism against India. We also expect that necessary steps will be taken on the Mumbai terror attacks trial in Pakistan to ensure speedy progress of the case and conviction of the accused,” she said.
Singh said Modi had told Sharif that the two countries could move towards normalisation of trade on the basis of the September 2012 roadmap on political and economic relations.
Asked if Modi raised the issue of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, Singh said several things including terrorism had been discussed. “I don’t want to speak more on this.”
Later, she said, “All our concerns on terrorism have been clearly articulated.”
On whether Kashmir was discussed, Singh said the two foreign secretaries would be in touch to find the best way to move forward.
Asked whether Modi would travel to Pakistan, Singh said invitations had come and had been accepted, but no dates had been finalised. “Dates have to be worked out,” she said.
Sharif stressed that Modi and he had a “common agenda of development and economic revival”, which was not possible without peace and stability in the region. “I urged that together, we should rid the region of instability and insecurity that has plagued us for decades.
Consequently, it was important for us to work together for peace, progress and prosperity. My government, therefore, stands ready to discuss all issues between our two countries in a spirit of cooperation and sincerity.
“After all, we owe it to our people to overcome the legacy of mistrust and misgivings. We agreed that this common objective could be facilitated by greater people-to-people exchanges at all levels,” he said.
The Pakistan PM said Modi had “warmly reciprocated” his sentiments, and remarked that his visit to New Delhi had been seen as a “special gesture” by the people of India. “He (Modi) stated that it was incumbent on both of us to work together, to achieve our common objectives for peace and development.”
Sharif also called on President Pranab Mukherjee and had “warm and friendly exchanges”. The Pakistan Prime Minister also met the ailing Vajpayee, but no details were available about the meeting.
Sharif met filmstars Hema Malini, Dharmendra and Shatrughan Sinha, and visited the Jama Masjid and Red Fort during the day.