New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Shaukat Aziz agreed to increase flights and bank branches in each other’s countries as part of efforts to improve ties between the South Asian neighbours.
Pakistan is also ready to export cement, following a duty reduction announced on 3 April by the Indian government, Singh’s office said in a release in New Delhi on 4 April. The statement was issued after the meeting between the two leaders.
India and Pakistan began rebuilding ties in 2003 after they came close to fighting a fourth war in 2002 over Kashmir, a Himalayan region divided between the two countries since 1947 and claimed in full by both. Singh and Aziz reviewed the progress made in the four-year-old peace dialogue between them and discussed bilateral issues including Kashmir.
The prime ministers of both countries also reaffirmed their commitment to pursue the gas pipeline project from Iran to India through Pakistan, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a separate statement in Islamabad. They expressed satisfaction over the progress made on the proposed $7.4 billion pipeline project.
Aziz was in New Delhi to attend the 14th summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or Saarc, which comprises India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan.
The two leaders also discussed bilateral issues including trade, energy, banking, air connectivity and people-to-people contact. They agreed to address the issue of the release of prisoners held in each other’s custody with “a humanitarian approach”, the Pakistani statement said.
Kashmir is at the heart of a 60-year dispute between the nuclear-armed neighbours. Control of Kashmir triggered two of the three wars they fought and a 17-year insurgency that has killed about 50,000 people.
Aziz underscored the importance of resolving Kashmir for “durable peace and brighter future of South Asia”, the Pakistani statement said.
Singh agreed that Pakistan would be kept informed about the investigation into the blasts on a Pakistan-bound train that killed 68 people on 18 February, according to Pakistan’s foreign ministry statement.
India and Pakistan started a fourth round of peace talks in March on issues such as Kashmir, economic and commercial cooperation, combating terrorism and drug trafficking, under a process known as the “composite dialogue”. The third round of talks ended in November.