NEW DELHI/ ISLAMABAD:
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accepted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s invitation to visit Pakistan next year for the Saarc summit following Friday’s talks in Russia where the two countries also agreed to take a series of steps to revive the stalled peace process.
If this fructifies, Modi will be the first Indian premier after Atal Behari Vajpayee to visit Pakistan. Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh never visited Pakistan during the decade that he was the prime minister.
The ice-breaking meeting, which was held on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in the Russian city of Ufa, lasted more than an hour.
The two prime ministers were assisted by their respective national security advisers, as well as foreign secretaries. This was the first formal meeting between the two leaders since Nawaz travelled to New Delhi to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Modi in May 2014.
The latest meeting came against the backdrop of friction in ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbours due to a series of controversial statements made by the Indian political leadership.
Reading out a joint statement before the media in Ufa, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry and his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar said the meeting was held in a ‘cordial’ atmosphere.
“The two leaders exchanged views on issues of bilateral and regional interest,” the joint statement said.
The statement said the two prime ministers agreed that India and Pakistan had a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. In an effort to achieve this objective, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues, it said.
However, there was no specific mention of longstanding Kashmir dispute, something that invited criticism from certain opposition parties back in Pakistan. Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.
According to the joint statement, a meeting between the national security advisers of the two countries –Pakistan’s Sartaj Aziz and India’s Ajit Doval – will be held in New Delhi to discuss all issues connected to terrorism.
A Foreign Office official told The Express Tribune that terror-related issues include Pakistan’s concerns over Indian intelligence agencies’ involvement in creating unrest in the country.
According to sources, Modi also strongly raised the issue of the release of the alleged mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks, Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, and asked Nawaz Sharif to take action against him. Reportedly, he also broached the issue of the ongoing tension along the border.
The meeting between the two prime ministers was preceded by an apparently fractious meeting between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. It is reported that during the interaction, Modi forcefully took up the issue of China’s blocking sanctions on Pakistan under UNSCR 1267 for releasing the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks.
According to the joint statement, the two rival neighbours will try to normalise the situation on the Line of Control (LoC) and working boundary. In this regard, the director general of Pakistan Rangers and head of Indian border security forces will meet at the earliest, followed by talks between the directors general of military operations of the two countries.
The statement said the two countries also agreed to release fishermen in each other’s custody along with their boats within a period of 15 days. Both sides agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples.
A mechanism will also be evolved to encourage religious tourism particularly pilgrimages from the two countries to holy places.
Early in the morning, hours before the talks started, India’s ministry of external affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup described it as ‘neighbourhood engagement’.
Meanwhile, most Indian think tanks hailed the initiative by the two prime ministers.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2015.
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