India, Pak push for normalisation of ties

India, Pak push for normalisation of ties

30 March 2011
The Daily Excelsior


MOHALI: With the high-voltage cricket World Cup semi-final providing the backdrop, India and Pakistan today sought to give a push for 'genuine normalization' of their ties with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani agreeing that it could happen only in an atmosphere free of terror and violence. Singh and Gilani held 'wide-ranging conversations' covering all aspects of the bilateral relations as they watched together the thrilling cricket match for about 90 minutes and continued them over dinner. The two leaders sought to give impetus to the bilateral relations, which were hurt by the 26-11 attacks, under the 'Mohali Spirit' that outlined the widening of contacts and 're-engagement' at various levels. The two Prime Ministers held 'wide-ranging conversations, not talks,' touching upon a number of issues of relevance to the bilateral relations, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters while briefing about the interactions between the two Prime Ministers. She said Singh and Gilani reaffirmed the intention to take the dialogue process forward as they agreed that it was important to 'understand each other better, resolve outstanding issues and at the core of the dialogue is the goal to normalize relations, pervasive and more permanent normalization process in an uninterrupted manner'. To a question, Rao underlined that India had 'not set aside or swept under the carpet' the 26-11 and that Singh had told Gilani that 'genuine normalization' in India-Pakistan ties can take place in an 'atmosphere free of terror and violence'. Gilani shared the sentiment, she said. She said India wants the evidence provided to Pakistan about those involved in the Mumbai attacks to be used and a 'proper closure' should be brought to it. In this context, she noted that during the Home Secretary-level talks held in Delhi on Monday and Tuesday, the Indian side had taken up the issue of Mumbai attacks. Gilani told the accompanying Pakistani media that the talks were 'positive' and he discussed with Singh 'all the core issues' between the two countries, an euphemism Pakistan employs for referring to Kashmir issue. Rao said the conversations between the two Prime Ministers were held in 'extremely positive' environment with the cricket match being the backdrop for which Gilani was invited by Singh. Noting that every such meeting generates 'a positive momentum and re-engagement' between India and Pakistan,' the Foreign Secretary said the two countries would be seeking solutions in a 'cooperative' manner by availing 'opportunities before us'. She said after the Home Secretary-level meeting, the two countries will have talks between Commerce Secretaries next month in Islamabad, followed by Surveyor Generals, Defence Secretaries, Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Ministers. Rao side-stepped a question whether Kashmir issue was discussed between the Prime Ministers, saying they 'took up a number of issues of relevance' to both the countries. She said the two countries were engaged in efforts for peace, reconstruction and 'healing of wounds'. 'We have begun the year 2011 with a positive agenda, which is a good augury for the future of our relations,' Rao said. Talking about people-to-people contacts, she said Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar have invited their Pakistani counterparts to undertake a visit to India, a step that will help in the engagement between the Parliamentarians. To a question, she said Gilani had extended an invitation to Singh to visit Pakistan and it would be 'discussed and finalized' through diplomatic channels. The Pakistan Prime Minister also wanted Indian cricket team to visit his country to play a series as part of resumption of bilateral sporting ties. 'The sporting contacts epitomize people-to-people contacts and contributes great deal in cementing of ties,' Rao said. During the conversation, Singh also pointed out to Gilani that one of his forefathers Mian Mir had helped in establishing the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The dinner at the Punjab Cricket Association club house at the stadium here started mid-way between the high-voltage semi-final match when Pakistan had lost 2 wickets. The two leaders watched the Indian innings together. Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Union Agriculture Minister and ICC chief Sharad Pawar, Union Minister of State Sachin Pilot, Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon were also part of the dinner engagement. Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana Parkash Singh Badal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda respectively, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi and Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia were also present. From the Pakistani side, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Defence Minister Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar and Minister of State in Foreign Ministry Hina Rabani Khar, Awami National Party President Asfandyar Wali Khan and Pakistani High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik were present. The seating arrangements were mixed at the dinner table with Sonia Gandhi seated between Gilani and Rehman Malik. The Pakistani Defence Minister was seated next to Prime Minister Singh. Wali Khan, the grandson of Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, was seated between Rahul Gandhi and Pilot. Gilani is here at the invitation of Singh who in a mix of cricket and diplomacy called him for talks last week the moment it was known that India and Pakistan would be playing in the semi-final. This is Gilani's maiden visit to India after he took over as Prime Minister in March, 2008. The two leaders have earlier met in third countries like Sharm-el-Shaikh in 2009, Washington and Thimphu in April, 2010. Before leaving for India, Gilani told reporters in Rawalpindi that he was happy at the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan and that both the Prime Ministers were committed to work for peace and prosperity in the region. 'As far as our relations are concerned, I am happy that our talks have resumed. The talks between the Interior Secretaries were conducted in a positive manner. I appreciate that,' Gilani said. He described Singh as an experienced politician with a positive attitude. 'He (Singh) wants to work for peace and prosperity in this region. We are both committed to this and we want the environment to improve so that we can serve the people,' Gilani said. 'I have never seen him (Singh) being negative about this. I have always found him to be positive,' he said. Gilani said he expected his visit to lead to 'some progress' between the two countries and 'an improvement in relations'. Besides, the Pakistan team 'will get a boost', he added. (PTI)


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