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Both India, Pak underplay Dr Singh-Sharif summit in New York

By Sheela Bhatt
September 24, 2013 14:42 IST
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However much one underplays the meeting between India and Pakistan’s top leaders, it can never be undervalued, reports Sheela Bhatt.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif will meet in New York on September 29 at around 11 am local time. Sharif will drive down to the New York Plaza hotel, where the Indian prime minister will be staying. The two leaders will be in New York later this week to attend the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Indian government is taking extraordinary care to underplay the event in view of the warming up of domestic politics post the nomination of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate and who has been ceaselessly targeting the United Progressive Alliance government's Pakistan policy since long. Interestingly, the government, so far, has not made any official announcement about the meeting.

Even Islamabad is not showing its usual enthusiasm befitting the event, it seems.

According to senior Pakistani editor and celebrity anchor of Geo TV, Hamid Mir, “Pakistan is keenly reading all about former army chief V K Singh’s statements more than about the proposed meeting between Dr Singh and Sharif. We have learnt how the Indian Army was paying bribes to politicians and running units to create trouble in Pakistan.”

Mir claims that both the prime ministers will meet and only “chit-chat”. He told “A detailed consultation had taken place in Pakistan’s establishment about the proposed talks. Pakistan’s diplomats think that Dr Singh is a weak leader and he is unlikely to have another term so there is no use setting an ambitious agenda for their proposed meeting.”

However, cynicism aside, Dr Singh is likely to meet Sharif with a formal agenda and the expectation is that the two Punjabi-speaking leaders will click with each other. There are strong signals that back channels on both sides are working cautiously to have something newsworthy to say after their first meet. Already, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has given out hints that New Delhi is working with Islamabad to “hand over” India’s most wanted terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, believed to be in Pakistan. 

The Congress party is wary of Modi’s penchant to attack its policies on issues of national security, and would like Dr Singh to tread carefully with elections just a few months away. But, at the same time, the party would also welcome any such move that helps it score some points in the domestic political war.

India’s case against Dawood is so strong that if Sharif steps forward to discuss with Dr Singh, at the high-level summit in New York, the parameters for fulfilling India’s long-standing demand of handing over the fugitive, it will be one of the most memorable meetings between the prime ministers of the two adversarial neighbours.

However, there are equally if not more serious issues like the killings of Indian soldiers at the Line of Control, issuance of visas, terrorism and trade-related issues that need to be discussed. Thus, however much one underplays the meeting between India and Pakistan’s top leaders, it can never be undervalued.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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