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This article was first published 12 years ago  » News » India, Pakistan decide to move step by step, issue by issue

India, Pakistan decide to move step by step, issue by issue

By Sheela Bhatt
April 08, 2012 18:55 IST
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Sheela Bhatt reports on the Singh-Zardari encounter.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari discussed a wide range of issues during their 40-minute one-on-one meeting at 7, Racecourse Road, Dr Singh's home.

Both leaders want India-Pakistan relations to be reset on the lines of bilateral relations between India and China, where trade takes precedence over unresolved bilateral issues.

The Indian side said Dr Singh discussed the issue of terrorism "upfront." The prime minister said it was imperative to bring the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks to justice before bilateral relations are normalised.

The Indians termed the meeting "friendly and constructive."

The meeting came a day after a massive avalanche slammed into a Pakistan army camp at the Siachen Glacier near the Indian border, the world's highest battleground in the world, where Indian and Pakistani troops guard their respective national positions in the most inhospitable weather conditions.

Pakistani troops are struggling to find survivors among the 135 soldiers buried under dozens of feet of snow. Dr Singh offered President Zardari help for any rescue operation.

There could not be a more fitting reason for both countries to talk peace.

The issue of liberalising the visa regime and a solution of the Sir Creek dispute moved forward during the talks, a ministry of external affairs source said.

Most importantly, Sunday's meeting between the two leaders pushed forward Dr Singh's much-awaited visit to Pakistan.

In Seoul on March 27 when Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani invited Dr Singh to visit his country, the Indian leader told his Pakistan counterpart that he needed a 'solid' outcome from such a visit.

A fortnight later, when President Zardari invited Dr Singh to visit Pakistan, the invitation was accepted 'with pleasure.' Both leaders have asked diplomatic channels to schedule suitable dates for Dr Singh to visit the country where he was born 80 years ago this September.

The ball is now in the Pakistan government's court to ensure that Dr Singh returns to New Delhi with a successful outcome.

One concrete proposal is to send the Indian cricket team to tour Pakistan in the winter. India has not toured Pakistan since 2003. One of the games could become an excuse for Dr Singh to visit Pakistan and cricket and diplomacy could blend easily.

Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, who addressed the media soon after the meeting, said Dr Singh emphasised that terrorism has to be prevented.

The prime minister also took up the issue of Lashkar-e-Tayiba founder Mohammad Saeed, against whom the United States announced a bounty of $10 million last Monday. Dr Singh told Zardari that the people of India would judge Pakistan by the steps its government took against terrorism.

When the prime minister raised the matter of Saeed, the prime accused in the 26/11 case, an MEA source said President Zardari responded that legal issues are involved and added that Pakistan is as much a victim of terrorism as India.

Interestingly, at the lunch Dr Singh hosted for Zardari on Sunday afternoon, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram was asked by his Pakistani counterpart Interior Minister Rehman Malik to release Dr Khaleel Chishti, 79, a Pakistani scientist who has been jailed in Rajasthan for murder.

'Legal issues have to be sorted out,' Chidambaram responded.'The court has to take the final call.'

Neither side raised the issue of the release of Sarbjeet Singh, the alleged Indian spy who is jailed on death row in Pakistan.

An MEA source added, "The Kashmir issue was also discussed along with other issues."

Both sides are now preparing for the talks at the home secretary level.

When asked if the issue of supplying electricity to Pakistan from Punjab was discussed -- a request Gilani had made to Dr Singh in Seoul -- the MEA source said, "Not to my knowledge."

Both leaders, the MEA source emphasised, felt they need to broaden the agenda of bilateral talks. India and Pakistan agreed that "step by step" and "issue by issue" progress should take place.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi