x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

India and Pakistan hold talks

The Pakistani and Indian prime ministers find common ground against terrorism during talks on the sidelines of the Non Aligned Movement, in Egypt.

Eygptian security personnel escort the Pakistani prime minister, Yusuf Gilani, fourth left, after his meeting with the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, in Sharm El Sheikh.
Eygptian security personnel escort the Pakistani prime minister, Yusuf Gilani, fourth left, after his meeting with the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, in Sharm El Sheikh.

SHARM EL SHEIKH, EYGPT // The Pakistani and Indian prime ministers agreed to continue dialogue and co-operate in combating terrorism during talks on the sidelines of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) summit yesterday in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El Sheikh. "The two prime ministers had a cordial and constructive meeting," read a joint statement distributed by Pakistani and Indian officials after three hours of talks. "Both leaders agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries. Both affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and to co-operate with each other to this end."

But Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, speaking after talks with his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani, ruled out a resumption of formal peace talks, known as the "composite dialogue", that Islamabad has been seeking. "Composite dialogue cannot begin unless and until terrorist heads which shook Mumbai are properly accounted for, [and] perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to book," Mr Singh told a news conference after talks with Mr Gilani.

The two prime ministers met at a hotel near the convention centre where the leaders of the summit were giving speeches for the second and final day. The two men shook hands reluctantly before the meeting at the request of the photographers. They did not speak to journalists afterwards, instead distributing their joint statement. Mr Singh, however, later spoke to a group of Indian journalists. The meeting was only the third between the two countries since the freeze in India-Pakistan political dialogue after the Mumbai terror attacks in November, when gunmen from Pakistan killed 166 people in India's financial capital.

"prime minister Singh reiterated the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice. prime minister Gilani assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard," said the statement, adding that Mr Gilani had provided India with an "updated status dossier on the investigations of the Mumbai attacks and had sought additional information/evidence". Mr Singh said "the dossier is being reviewed".

This month, India reacted angrily when a Pakistani court ordered the release of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-i-Taiba, the group India blames for the Mumbai siege. India's key demand has been that Islamabad prosecute those responsible. New Delhi has been reluctant to resume any kind of political dialogue. "Both prime ministers recognised that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process," said the joint statement, which added that the Indian prime minister is "ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues".

Separately, Mr Gilani told reporters that he and Mr Singh agreed to continue discussing "all core issues." "I have told them that it should not be bracketed with the Mumbai incident. They are satisfied with my commitment that they will be brought to justice, whosoever is the culprit," he said. A visit to India by the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, starting today, could encourage Mr Singh to make a conciliatory gesture.

The United States is keen on the resumption of talks between the two countries to ease tensions on Pakistan's eastern border with India, so it can focus on fighting Taliban militants on its western border with Afghanistan. Peace between the two nuclear-armed Asian rivals has helped boost bilateral trade to more than US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn), encouraged cross-border bus and train services, and eased visa restrictions on travel.

The issue of terrorism was high on Mr Singh's address to the summit on Wednesday. "Extremism, intolerance and terrorism are our antitheses; they seek to destroy us and our movement," he said. "Terrorists and those who aid and abet them must be brought to justice. The infrastructure of terrorism must be dismantled and there should be no safe havens for terrorists because they don't represent any cause, group or religion," said the Indian prime minister in his speech.

"We are currently engaged in a resolute national effort to eliminate terrorism and militancy," said the Pakistani prime minister in his address to the summit on Wednesday. "Our valiant security forces and the people of Pakistan have rendered enormous sacrifices in fighting this menace. Millions of our citizens have been recently dislocated," he added, expressing the appreciation of his country for the support and help it has received from friends in the international community.

Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qa'eda's deputy leader, called on Pakistanis to join his group's war against the United States in Pakistan and Afghanistan and warned they could face the destruction of both countries and provoke God's wrath if they do not. His threats, which were posted in an audio message on the internet on Tuesday, come as the Pakistani military has stepped up its operations against militants along the border with Afghanistan, including in South Waziristan where some suspect Mr al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden are hiding.

Both men have been at the top of America's most wanted list since the September 11 attacks and the US is offering $25 million for information that led to their arrest. Al Qa'eda aside, India and Pakistan have a bloody history. They have fought three wars, two over the disputed territory of Kashmir, since gaining independence from Britain in 1947. In 2001, a suicide attack on the Indian parliament pushed them to the brink of war again, but tensions eventually subsided. They began formal peace talks in 2004, but they were put on hold after the November attacks in Mumbai.

All of NAM's 118 members, including India and Pakistan, attended the 15th summit in Sharm El Sheikh. The movement is currently presided over by host country Egypt. Iran will assume the presidency in 2012. In his speech, which was not read out but distributed to journalists, Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, who was representing the Islamic republic instead of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yesterday criticised the "interventionist and malicious policies of hegemonic powers in internal affairs of other countries under the pretext of supporting or promoting democracy and human rights", citing Iran's June 12 presidential elections, which the opposition and some western countries have cast doubt upon.

The 118-nation NAM was born during the Cold War almost 50 years ago as a group of countries allied neither with the US-led camp nor the Soviet bloc. However, the movement has lost much of its relevance since the end of the Cold War nearly two decades ago. Made up mostly of African, Asian and Latin American nations, it has become primarily an international speaking forum for developing nations. @Email:nmagd@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters