New Delhi: In what could lead to a thaw in bilateral ties after a spike in tensions along the Kashmir border, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York this month. It will be their first meeting ever.
Singh confirmed the meeting—the subject of increasing speculation in recent days— in a departure statement as he boarded an aircraft for a week-long visit to Washington and New York.
Besides a meeting with US President Barack Obama, “I also look forward to bilateral meetings with the leaders of some of our neighbouring countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan,“ Singh said.
People close to the development said the meeting in New York could take place on 29 September. Singh’s first engagement during his six-day US trip is his meeting with Obama scheduled for 27 September in Washington. He is expected to address the UN General Assembly the next day and hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of a number of countries before returning home on 1 October.
Speculation has been rife for weeks about the first face-to-face meeting between Singh and Sharif since the latter’s election in May as prime minister—his third stint in the office.
But doubts surfaced after relations soured over the killing of five Indian soldiers in an ambush along the line of control in Kashmir on 6 August.
The killings followed numerous violations of a border ceasefire put in place in November 2003 and another ambush of Indian soldiers along the line of control in January. India blamed Pakistani troops for both ambushes.
News reports suggested sections of the ruling Congress party as well as the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party were opposed to the Singh-Sharif meeting, given public sentiment in India.
Analysts said a face-to-face meeting between Singh, who is nearing the end of his second five-year term as prime minister, and Sharif is likely to be symbolically important in ensuring peace between the two nations.
India’s foreign minister Salman Khurshid had met Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Sharif on foreign affairs, in Brunei in July and agreed to draw up a roadmap for peace talks but the 6 August ambush slowed the process.
Expectations of a breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations were high after the election of Sharif, seen in India as a business-friendly leader. But the lack of movement on a pledge by Pakistan, made more than a year ago, to grant India Most Favoured Nation trade status has emerged as an irritant.
Little of substance is likely to emerge from the Singh-Sharif meeting although, being the first between the two prime ministers, it is of symbolic importance as an ice-breaker.
“I don’t see anything spectacular coming out of the meeting,” former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said, adding: “During the election campaign (in Pakistan), Sharif was seen as the most India-friendly leader. India has dealt with him in the past. I am glad the meeting is taking place.”