NEW YORK - At the United Nations, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took a tough line on the eve of his talks with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, accusing the neighbouring country of being an epicentre of terrorism and claiming that Kashmir was an integral part of India.
On Kashmir, the Indian leader appears to be shutting the door for any settlement. “There must be a clear understanding of the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and that there can never, ever, be a compromise with the unity and territorial integrity of India.”
A Pakistani spokesman voiced concern over India’s stance, but declined immediate comments. A senior Pakistani official, however, said that Jammu and Kashmir is a United Nations-recognised dispute, and Pakistan is committed to engaging India in a meaningful dialogue to resolve this decades-old dispute on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions and in accordance with the wishes of the people of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the venue for the talks has been changed. Previously Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was to host the Indian leader at Inter-continental Hotel, where he is staying. Now they will meet at Palace Hotel, the residence of Manmohan Singh.
This time around, it was Pakistan’s turn to hold the talks, but no one was prepared to explain why Prime Minister Sharif agreed to be the Indian leader’s guest.
In making his sharply worded comments during his speech at the UN General Assembly on Saturday, Manmohan Singh reinforced what he said in Washington on Friday after meeting US President Barack Obama when he first accused Pakistan of being sponsor of terror into India.
On Saturday, he told the General Assembly, “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.
“It is equally important that the terrorist machinery that draws its sustenance from Pakistan be shut down,” the Indian prime minister added.
While saying that he looked forward to meeting Prime Minister Sharif (in New York today (Sunday), Singh said that for progress to be made, it was imperative that Pakistan’s territory and the areas under its control were not utilised for aiding and abetting terrorism directed against India.
While sharing Nawaz Sharif’s hopes for better relations, Singh said Pakistan must no longer be “the epicentre of terrorism in our region”.
“For progress to be made, it is imperative that the territory of Pakistan and the areas under its control are not utilised for aiding or abetting terrorism,” Singh said.
Singh said he supported resolving questions over Kashmir but stood firm that the Himalayan territory is “an integral part of India.”
“There can never, ever, be a compromise with the unity and territorial integrity of India,” he said.
“India is committed sincerely in resolving all issues with Pakistan, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, through bilateral dialogue on the basis of Simla Agreement,” he said.
Singh said terrorism remained 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,” he said.
Expectations from the high-profile meeting will be toned down, as the Singh himself put it in the media briefing after his talks with President Obama, “given the terror arm which is still active in our sub-continent”.
Singh also made it clear that any progress in the bilateral dialogue will depend on action by Pakistan against terror groups operating from its soil.
The two leaders are expected to discuss bilateral ties and ways to remove difficulties in normalising relations. Sharif, who is committed to improving bilateral ties with India, said on Friday he was looking forward to the meeting with Singh to make a “new beginning” and to re-engage with India in a “substantive and purposeful dialogue”.
The India-Pakistan dialogue process was put on hold after incidents of firing across the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Kashmir region earlier this year. But the recent Jammu incident threatened to derail the New York meeting, with main Indian opposition BJP demanding that Singh’s meeting with Sharif be called off. But Singh decided to go ahead with the meeting, saying such attacks will not succeed in derailing the dialogue process.
As regards Indian prime minister’s allegations, a senior Pakistani official noted that “terrorism is as much a concern for Pakistan as it is for any other country.”
“Pakistan is a victim of terrorism. The people and armed forces of Pakistan have waged a valiant struggle against forces of terrorism and our (counterterrorism) efforts have been appreciated by the whole world.”
Terrorism, the official said, can best be countered by cooperation of the international community at the regional and international levels.
Pakistan still hopes that the Sharif-Singh meeting would result in reduction of tensions and resumption of the peace process.