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The one-on-one meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at the Millennium Plaza hotel in New York on Wednesday lasted for over 40 minutes and gave a positive spin to the bilateral relationship.
The interaction between the two sides, which lasted some 90 minutes, was followed by the joint statement that was sprinkled with rhetoric and some special announcements. These included the commencement of trade across the Line of Control [Images] on the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad route from October 21.
The move will pacify the separatist faction in Kashmir.
Dr Singh meets Pakistan President
During the meeting, Zardari was expectedly expressive and seemingly in awe of Dr Singh.
Even Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon told the media that, "He (Zardari) did hug him (Dr Singh); he was very warm and very friendly. And the atmosphere throughout was excellent. There was a good discussion. That's why both sides expressed satisfaction at the end."
Both leaders seemed 'very satisfied' after the meeting but back home, the atmosphere is anything but conducive for any substantial move between them.
The meeting between Zardari and Dr Singh came only a few hours after Mumbai Police Commissioner Hasan Gafoor claimed that the police had foiled a major terror attack in Mumbai. The police also claimed that Roshan Khan, chief of the Indian Mujahideen [Images], is suspected to be in Pakistan.
Obviously Dr Singh had to ensure that he raised the issue of terrorism strongly enough to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party, which wants to make the issue of terrorism its main election plank.
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The Indian side ensured that the issue of terrorism was mentioned in the joint statement which said, "Both leaders acknowledged that the peace process has been under strain in recent months. They agreed that violence, hostility and terrorism have no place in the vision they share of the bilateral relationship and must be visibly and verifiably prevented. Severe action would be taken against any elements directing or involved in terrorists' acts."
Menon, while briefing the media on the meeting, promptly acknowledged that issue of terror is 'the issue' between two countries. He said, "They discussed it and you saw there is a very strong statement on terrorism."
He added with emphasis, "It's an issue. I don't think anybody has said that it is not an issue. That's why the process has been under stress. The joint statement itself acknowledges that it's under the stress. So we try and address those issues."
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The joint statement also said that Zardari has assured Dr Singh that Pakistan stands by the commitments it made on January 6, 2004, when then President Pervez Musharraf [Images] had reassured then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner.
The joint statement will serve the short term purposes of both sides. India has shown that it is ready to do business with Zaradari. India has also demonstrated that it supports the delicate democratic process going on in Pakistan.
The meeting has taken place at time when Zardari is struggling to avoid international isolation while tackling terrorism inside Pakistan.
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The positive message of the meeting is a substantive recognition for Zardari, who is yet to stabilise his position. It is not yet known if he has won the support of the powerful Pakistan army [Images].
The cautious and bland language of the joint statement shows that nobody is under any illusion that Zardari will be able to deliver.
However, PM Singh's critics may mind the proposal to convene a meeting of the joint anti-terror mechanism in October, to address mutual concerns including the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. The anti-terror mechanism initiative has been a non-starter. However, the inclusion of Kabul bombings in the statement is an advantage to India because it means that Pakistan has agreed to talk about it officially.
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The deadly blasts at Mariott Hotel in Islamabad [Images] has shaken Pakistan to its core. Zardari wants his dysfunctional state to survive and India's positive attitude in strengthening bilateral relations could only be good news for the troubled neighbour.
Menon told the media," I think we have been quite clear in the composite dialogue that we move in tandem on all the three aspects. The atmosphere free of violence and terrorism, the resolution of all the issues that divided us including Jammu and Kashmir [Images] and to build cooperative relationship through people to people contact, trade etc. I think we should move all this in tandem as we can. That's what we have done in the past four years. That's what we intend to do."
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