TEHRAN – President Asif Ali Zardari Thursday stressed determined efforts to steer the dialogue process while Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told him that early justice to the perpetrators of Mumbai attack would be the biggest confidence building measure.
As the two leaders met here on the sidelines of the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, President Zardari said that it was important to move beyond reiteration of positions to more substantive results. “We have covered a lot of ground but we still have to go a long way”, he added.
The president said that Pakistan was committed to pursuing the process of dialogue and engagement with India, adding that the two countries must maintain focus to steer the dialogue process in a productive and result-oriented manner. He told Prime Minister Singh that his country was keenly looking forward to his visit at an early date.
Foreign Minister Hinna Rabbani Khar, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna, Indian External Affairs Secretary, Indian National Security Adviser and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Iran Khalid Babar were present during the meeting.
Foreign Minister Hina Khar later described the meeting as ‘good’. “There is an ample proof that the political leadership of the two countries is committed to improving and normalising ties with each other,” she told APP at the Conference Centre.
Hina said that Pakistan believed that it was the right approach and the requirement of the times and emerging regional situation to have better ties with all the countries, particularly those in the region. “It is important that we are able to move past the challenges of the past and move into a new era of cooperation and being able to resolve our disputes,” she said.
The foreign secretaries of the two countries are meeting at Islamabad in September to review the second round of dialogue process that resumed after a gap of two years, following the Mumbai attacks. It was the second meeting of President Zardari with Dr Manmohan Singh in a year. They last met at New Delhi during President Zardari’s day-long private visit to India in April.
The president recalled the meeting and said he was deeply touched by the warm hospitality extended to him in New Delhi and Ajmer Sharif. He appreciated the Indian prime minister’s vision for a peaceful and prosperous South Asia.
Zardari said Pakistan desired to have friendly, cooperative and good neighbourly relations with India, as it had a deep interest in promoting peace and stability in the region. He said the South Asian region had enormous potential and the cooperation between the two countries was imperative to exploit this potential.
The president expressed satisfaction at the completion of the second round of the resumed dialogue process, that would culminate with the foreign ministers meeting in Islamabad in September. The two leaders also noted the substantive improvement in their bilateral, economic and trade relations.
Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters that Prime Minister Singh told President Zardari that expeditiously concluding the trial of the 26/11 Mumbai attack’s perpetrators would be the biggest sub-continental confidence building measure (CBM).
“The prime minister reiterated he desired to have peaceful relations. For this, we have to be patient and move forward in a step-by-step and graduated manner. This is the best way to succeed,” Mathai said. The PM thanked President Zardari for repeating visit invitation and said he would like to visit at a ‘suitable time’ and in a ‘well-prepared’ manner, he added.
“India wishes Pakistan well and is willing to meet Pakistan more than halfway,” Mathai quoted Singh as telling Zardari. Asked about Zardari’s response to the demand for speeding up the 26/11 trial, Mathai quoted the president as reiterating his commitment to bring to justice the perpetrators but saying he was facing a judicial roadblock.
Zardari, Mathai said, “mentioned they have had the processes taken up in the court and the court had taken a different view when the trial resumed. Thus, they have requested a repeat visit” of the judicial commission that earlier visited India to examine the witnesses in the trial of Ajmal Amir Kasab. However, the Kasab issue did not figure in the meeting, Mathai said.
“Earlier, the question was whether our processes would allow the questioning of the three individuals (Pakistan) had sought. The home minister has said that let the visit take place... This time, we will have to get a judicial view on whether cross-examination is possible,” he said, adding that no time line had been set.
Both leaders also felt that the meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries early next month “would be an opportunity” to chart out the roadmap for further dialogue, the foreign secretary said. Trade issues were also discussed, with Zardari saying that given the “great scope for regional economic cooperation, Pakistan can be a catalyst in this process. The prime minister welcomed this approach,” he added.
Responding to a question on the US placing eight more members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, including the son of its founder Hafiz Saeed, on the terror list, Mathai said: “We welcome all steps to combat global terror.” India insists Hafiz Saeed masterminded the Mumbai attack but it has not provided credible evidence to Pakistan in this regard.
Speaking to Headlines Today on the sidelines of the 16th NAM summit in Tehran, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar expressed disappointment with India’s allegation that more than a quarter of the hate SMSs and inflammatory online content against the north-eastern people in the wake of the Assam violence had originated from Pakistan.
She sounded condescending: “We need to find a more mature way to handle all these issues because they will emerge and continue to haunt us. I am disappointed that anything reaches media before it reaches the Pakistan government.”
Meanwhile, New Delhi seems to have scored a self goal, with the ministry of home affairs (MHA) and the ministry of external affairs (MEA) taking contrary positions.
On August 18, Indian Union Home Secretary RK Singh had categorically pointed fingers at Pakistan when, referring to the morphed images of victims of cyclones and earthquakes being uploaded on internet as those of violence against Muslims in Assam and Myanmar, he had said: “...this is something that is being done from Pakistan.”
However, India appears reluctant to take up the issue with Pakistan at this juncture as there is friction within the government. On Wednesday, Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, who is also in Tehran to attend the summit, told journalists that while the issue of hate mails had led to a lot of commotion, it would be raised at an “appropriate level”.