New York/New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif agreed in talks on Sunday agreed to reduce violence over their disputed border in Kashmir.
“Both agreed that the precondition for forward movement in the relationship, which they both desire, is really an improvement of the situation on the LoC,” national security adviser Shivshankar Menon told reporters, referring to the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.
Menon said that Singh and Sharif, in talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, decided to task military officers to “find effective means to restore the ceasefire”.
“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of terrorism and the need for effective action on bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to book,” Menon said. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that that was indeed Pakistan’s intention.”
The talks come after militants raided an army base in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, killing 10 people in an attack seen as aimed at holding back reconciliation efforts between the historic rivals.
The impression gathered by the Indian side was that the meeting was “useful because it provided an occasion for high level contact and discussion on issues which are troubling the relationship. And this was necessary at this time. We will now see how both sides take it forward over the next few months”, Menon said.
Menon said Sharif also promised “there would be action” on punishing extremists linked to the 2008 raid on the Indian city of Mumbai, which killed 166 people.
Menon said the talks were friendly, but added: “As for how useful and productive the meeting was, I think the only proof will be in the months to come.”
Sharif, in his first talks with Singh since sweeping to power in May, has appealed for the two countries to improve their historically tense relationship.
The run-up to Sunday’s meeting was rocky. First came the twin terror attacks in Kashmir last week on a police station and an Army camp, considered the worst in a decade. At least 10 people, including a lieutenant colonel in the Indian Army, were killed, and this came just a day after Singh confirmed the meeting with Sharif in a departure statement as he left for the US.
Despite opposition anger over the Kashmir attacks, Singh said he would meet Sharif. On Sunday, hours before the crucial meeting, came Sharif’s reported comment that Singh, who met US President Barack Obama on 27 September and discussed cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, was behaving like a dehati aurat (rustic woman). Sharif, who met journalists Hamid Mir of Pakistan’s Geo TV and NDTV’s Barkha Dutt over breakfast, reportedly told them that Singh seems to have met Obama for the purpose of complaining about him.
Later in the day, Pakistani journalists and Dutt contradicted Mir’s remarks that Sharif had made derogatory remarks against Singh. Mir also retracted his statements on Twitter.
On Saturday, a tough talking Singh set the tone for Sunday’s meeting in his address to the UN General Assembly where he did not mince words as he described Pakistan as “epicentre of terrorism in South Asia” and urged the UN member countries to show zero tolerance towards “states sheltering, arming, training or financing terrorists”.
“Terrorism remains a grave threat to security and stability everywhere and extracts a heavy toll of innocent lives around the world. From Africa to Asia, we have seen several manifestations of this menace in the last few days alone,” Singh said in a statement.
Analysts said this underlined a parallel between the terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall on 21 September by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group, in which about 70 people were killed, and the twin attacks in Kashmir last week, in which 10 people were killed.
“State-sponsored cross-border terrorism is of particular concern to India, also on account of the fact that the epicentre of terrorism in our region is located in our neighbourhood in Pakistan,” Singh said in his speech.
India accuses Pakistan of using terrorism as a means to undermine its rule over Kashmir that both countries claim in full but administer in parts.
India also blames Pakistan for its support to Islamist groups that have targeted India through suicide attacks and bomb blasts, including the November 2008 Mumbai attack in which 10 terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) targeted many locations in Mumbai. India has also been unhappy with the slow pace of the trial in Pakistan of the seven detained for planning the Mumbai attack.
Sections of the Indian government are wary of Sharif’s links with the Jamaat-ud-Dawa group, which Pakistan calls a charity though banned as a terrorist organization in many countries, which is headed by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Saeed is the founder of the LeT.
But other sections in India, particularly the business community, were buoyed by Sharif assuming office as Pakistan Prime Minister in June, given his pro-business tilt.
“I think the Prime Minister said the right things with the right amount of force and clarity and no one can fault him on this,” said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
In his speech, Singh recalled that Sharif had spoken of “making a new beginning” with India during his speech to the UN General Assembly.
Sibal agreed with C. Uday Bhaskar of the South Asia Monitor think tank who said that Singh “touched on all the relevant points that make up India’s official position—that the Kashmir dispute should be sorted out bilaterally, that Pakistan should not use its territory for terrorist attacks against India”.
In his comments to the UN General Assembly on Friday, Sharif, in a reference to Kashmir and alleged Indian human rights violations, had said that “the suffering of the people cannot be brushed under the carpet, because of power politics”.
Sibal was of the view that since Sharif had articulated the known Pakistani position on Kashmir and ties with India, there was little room to expect any breakthroughs at the Singh-Sharif meeting.
He agreed that Sharif had made some statements on peace with India but, given his statement at the UN, “I can’t see the need to attach so much importance to this summit”, he said. “I think Sharif should be put on the defensive on the issue of terrorism.”
AFP contributed to this story