Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt: India said on Thursday formal peace talks with Pakistan could not resume until those behind last year’s Mumbai attacks were brought to justice.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was speaking after talks in Egypt with Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani, quashing any immediate hopes Islamabad had of reviving five-year-old “composite dialogue” on all disputes between the rival nations.
That dialogue was derailed by the Mumbai attacks that India says was carries out by Pakistani militants who must have been helped by Pakistani security agents. Islamabad denies state agencies had any role and says it will prosecute militant suspects.
“Composite dialogue cannot begin unless and until terrorist heads which shook Mumbai are properly accounted for, (and) perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to book,” Singh told a news conference after talks with the Pakistani premier.
After their talks in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, the two Prime Ministers issued a joint statement agreeing to cooperate on fighting terrorism and ordering senior diplomats to continue to meet as often as needed.
Thursday’s meeting on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit was the third high-level encounter between the two neighbours since the Mumbai attacks.
“Both Prime Ministers recognised that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process,” the joint statement said.
Analysts said the statement had kept the nature of future dialogue open to help dig the two countries out of an impasse after the Mumbai attacks that killed at least 166 people.
“They have affirmed their faith in dialogue without making any commitment on the precise nature of dialogue which means it’s open-ended and India will make its decision about dialogue when it is satisfied with Pakistan’s performance on terrorism,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based independent analyst.
The Pakistani prime minister went into the meeting saying there had been “some forward movement” in relations with India and that he wanted to move towards comprehensive engagement.
Singh said in his address to NAM delegates that the “infrastructure of terrorism” needed to be dismantled, a comment clearly directed at Pakistan.
In their joint statement, the premiers “affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and to cooperate with each other to this end” and Gilani pledged that Pakistan “will do everything in its power” to bring the perpetrators of Mumbai to justice.
“Prime Minister Singh said that India was ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues,” the statement said.
C. Raja Mohan, professor of South Asia studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technology University, said: “It’s a good step forward and it’s a way out of the impasse that the two sides found themselves in after Mumbai.”
The joint statement said the foreign ministries’ top civil servants, India’s Shivshankar Menon and Pakistan’s Salman Bashir, “should meet as often as necessary and report to the two foreign ministers.”
The two senior diplomats held two rounds of talks in Egypt this week prior to Thursday’s meeting of the premiers.
In Islamabad, the Supreme Court adjourned for two weeks an appeal hearing by the government challenging the release of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group that New Delhi has blamed for Mumbai attacks.