THIMPHU, BHUTAN: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh will meet today on the sidelines of the 16th Saarc summit in Bhutan.
This is the first time the two leaders will hold direct talks after their meeting in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16, 2009. Speculation about a possible meeting between Gilani and Singh at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit were finally confirmed on Wednesday when Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said the leaders would meet on Thursday afternoon.
Basit said the agenda for the meeting had not been finalised yet, but subjects dealing with the resumption of bilateral talks would most likely be discussed. Speaking to Express 24/7, Basit said:
“As far as Pakistan is concerned, we would like the meeting to result in a meaningful and irreversible process between the two countries.” Basit stressed that “these sideline meetings … are not really a solution to resolve our bilateral issue, so it is important that we have resulted oriented engagement.” The meeting is said to be held at Bhutan House, though the spokesperson did not confirm this.
Speaking to reporters in Thimphu, Bhutan, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said it was time for India to decide whether it wanted to engage in dialogue or not. “We need to go beyond a handshake,” he said, referring to cursory pleasantries Gilani and Singh had exchanged at a nuclear security summit in Washington earlier this month.
Qureshi said Pakistan was always ready for dialogue, but domestic political considerations seemed to be holding India back. However, he expressed his optimism in Singh’s intentions, saying: “I am convinced that Prime Minister Singh wants to move forward. The joint statement issued by India and Pakistan after talks in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009 had caused uproar in India. Congress and the opposition criticised Singh for bowing to Pakistani pressure, as Pakistani action on terrorism had been de-linked from composite dialogue for the first time. The contentious issue of foreign involvement in Balochistan was also mentioned in the joint statement, also a first for India. Relations between Pakistan and India seemed to improve after both states held foreign secretary level talks in February.
Last week, Pakistan handed six dossiers on alleged 26/11 Mumabi attacker Ajmal Kasab over to India. The latest scandal to hit both states, however, is the issue of suspected spy Madhuri Gupta, who was arrested in New Delhi five days ago on charges of passing on sensitive information to Pakistan intelligence agencies. Gilani and Singh both made their scheduled speeches at the Saarc summit on Wednesday, which focuses on ‘Climate Change’ this year. Gilani asked Saarc member states to join hands to fight against extremism and intolerance. He stressed that peace and stability at home and in the region was the best way to achieve development, adding that socio-economic disparities with the region had to be addressed.
Gilani said the summit was an opportunity to create a new beginning, adding: “only when we refuse to be held hostage to history … only when we sincerely and assiduously work to build trust, resolve disputes, bridge perceptions and see merit in an enlightened collective self interest, will we be able to unleash our latent potential.”
In his address, Singh said Saarc must aim to create a region that is better connected, better empowered and better fed. Prime Minister Gilani also met with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse on the sidelines of the summit on Wednesday. Gilani and Rajapakse agreed to promote relations in all the fields especially defence, trade and commerce. During the meeting, which was also attended by Foreign Minister Qureshi, both the leaders also emphasized the need to strengthen Saarc.