Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh held a 90-minute conversation here on Wednesday, a re-engagement that Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao hopes would lead to ‘peace, healing and reconciliation’ between the two countries.
The two prime ministers found time for the talks during the ICC World Cup semi-final between Pakistan and India on Wednesday. Congress President Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul Gandhi and Indian Parliamentarians also joined the two leaders at the talks which were held in a good atmosphere.
Later in his dinner speech, premier Singh said India and Pakistan should put ‘ancient animosities’ behind them and attend to their people.
“India and Pakistan should be working together to find cooperative solutions and need permanent reconciliation to live together in dignity and honour,” Singh said.
Nirupama Rao said the two leaders had agreed to exchange visits by delegations of lawmakers and deeper and wider cricketing ties, though she did not elaborate on whether this meant that Pakistan’s players would play in the next edition of the Indian Premier League.
Prime Minister Gilani also described his meeting with Singh as ‘positive’ where they discussed “all the core issues between the two countries”. Gilani told Pakistani journalists after the meeting that he invited the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi to visit Pakistan.
The Indian foreign secretary said that the Indian premier has accepted the invitation to visit Pakistan and dates would be announced soon.
Rao denied that the Indian premier had, by deciding to re-engage with Pakistan, put the Mumbai attacks behind India. She said Singh emphasised that both India and Pakistan should strive for an atmosphere free of terror and violence.
But the meeting between the two prime ministers took place against the background of the Saarc meeting at Thimphu and the ‘extremely positive meeting of the home secretaries’.
Rao said the two prime ministers agreed that issues of terrorism should be addressed in a ‘cooperative spirit, jointly’.
The two prime ministers had a substantive conversation for ninety minutes, but exchanges over dinner were related only to sport. Singh referred to the fact that Gilani’s forefathers made a substantial contribution for the building of the Golden Temple.
There will be a flurry of exchanges between the two sides this year, including talks between the surveyor generals of the two countries, commerce secretaries, foreign secretaries and foreign ministers.
In Islamabad, the United States embassy congratulated Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan and his Indian counterpart for their leadership of ‘cricket diplomacy’ between their countries.
“We wish both nations continued success in expanding dialogue, mutual understanding, and cooperation. We believe continued visionary diplomacy of this sort will lead both countries and the region as a whole to winning results for all sides,” a US embassy statement said.
With additional reporting by Sumera Khan in Islamabad
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2011.