New Delhi: India on Friday remained non-committal on whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) later this month.
If a meeting is agreed on, it is expected to take place on 29 September in New York, two persons familiar with the developments said. It would be the first face-to-face interaction between Singh and Sharif.
Singh is to travel to Washington on 27 September and later proceed for the UN General Assembly session in New York. With Sharif also expected in New York then, speculation has been rife that the two prime ministers will meet. Sharif, in a message to Singh on India’s independence day on 15 August, had said he looked forward to the talks with Singh.
So far one can see the two sides are inching towards agreement in the meeting between the two Prime Ministers,” said Lalit Mansingh, former foreign secretary.
“The meeting is likely to take place and I support it. It will be unfortunate if they don’t meet. I feel that this opportunity can be used to put forward our views strongly,” Mansingh said.
Still, suspense over whether the meeting will happen was sustained on Friday by Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid, who met Sartaj Aziz, adviser on foreign affairs to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, in the Kyrgyzstan capital Bishkek on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting.
“I conveyed to him that a possible meeting between the Prime Ministers in New York, on the margins of UNGA, will require a conducive atmosphere and delivery for it to materialize... We discussed the ground realities and the need to factor our sensitivities into taking our engagement forward,” Khurshid said.
India has been urging Pakistan to show progress on investigations into the November 2008 attack on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed by 10 Pakistan-based Islamist militants. India blames the attack on the Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group and some sections of the Pakistani establishment.
The Mumbai attack derailed a four-year-old peace process between India and Pakistan but dialogue resumed in 2011 after Pakistan detained seven suspects and put them on trial. The dialogue has continued since, driven mainly by trade and economic linkages, despite the trial in Pakistan proceeding slowly.
The trial received a further setback in May when unknown gunmen in Islamabad shot dead Chaudhury Zulfikar Ali, the Pakistani prosecutor in the Mumbai attacks case.
In his remarks on Friday, Khurshid said he had discussed “justice for Mumbai attack victims” with Aziz, who “conveyed that a prosecutor had been appointed and the visit of the judicial commission to India was scheduled on 23rd September. We welcomed that step.” Khurshid was referring to a trip by a Pakistani investigative panel to record evidence from Indian witnesses in the Mumbai attacks case.
“We also discussed the imperative of maintaining ceasefire along the LoC (Line of Control) by making the existing mechanisms more effective,” Khurshid added, referring to tensions between the two neighbours over firing across their de facto border in Kashmir.
Tensions spiked last month when India said Pakistani troops had killed five Indian soldiers inside Indian territory on 6 August.
“We will be looking at how the visit of the Pakistan judicial commission goes and also at the speech which Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be making in New York (at the UN General Assembly on 28 September),” said one of the two people cited above.
Replying to a TV reporter in Bishkek about his meeting with Khurshid, Aziz, according to a statement provided by the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi, said: “We both agreed that it was important to respect the 2003 ceasefire agreement in order to reduce tensions and for this purpose, we agreed that the existing mechanism shall be used more effectively. Considering the likelihood of a meeting between the two Prime Ministers we agreed to use diplomatic channels to finalize the agenda for such a meeting keeping in view the progress made so far in various working groups and in back channel contacts.”