New York: Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh met on Sunday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and Sharif assured India of "action" on the 2008 Mumbai attacks case in the wake of a Pakistani judicial commission having visited India.
Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, briefing reporters on the meeting, said Sharif told Singh there would be "action on the Mumbai attack cases now that the judicial commission has been in India and gathered depositions".
The leaders used a one-hour meeting on Sunday to defuse border tensions with both sides agreeing to an immediate modest goal of having their military commanders meet to shore up the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC).
Menon said that Singh and Sharif had tasked senior military commanders with meeting “as soon as possible” to end violations of a ceasefire agreement which have become increasingly frequent in recent months.
“They decided to ask the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) to suggest effective means to restore the ceasefire and ensure it remains in force and in place," Menon told reporters at a briefing in New York.
Though no time frame had been set, the hope is that this happens as soon as possible.
The Prime Minister, according to Menon, told his Pakistani counterpart that such steps were a pre-condition to any improvement in relations with Pakistan.
"The pre-conditions for forward movement in the relationship which they both desire is an improvement of the situation on the Line of Control where there have been repeated ceasefire violations," said Menon.
The outcome of the meeting is surely a modest one but it’s also pragmatic, given the spiraling violence along the Kashmir border which has become a source of enormous concern.
“Manmohan Singh said during the meeting that one can choose their friends, but not their neighbours,” said Menon. “So Pakistan is our neighbour, and we will continue working towards a solution of our issues.”
Singh, however, conveyed to Sharif that only action on terrorism emanating from Pakistani territory, starting with bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to book, would move other items like trade, economic ties and the broader dialogue forward.
Menon described the meeting as “productive and constructive.”
"Our overall impression of the meeting was that it was useful because it provided an opportunity for high-level contact on issues that are troubling the relationship," Menon said. "We will now see how both sides take it forward in the next few months."
While not much might have come out of the talks, rarely has there been a greater need for communication between India and Pakistan given the recent escalation of violence along the Kashmir border.
Sharif invited Singh to visit Pakistan but Menon’s assertion that no date has been fixed or is even being considered was a clear indication that the whole point of the New York meeting between the two leaders was to set realistic goals: make the LoC safe before engaging any further with Pakistan. As a part of the diplomatic dance, Singh invited Sharif to also visit India, which he accepted. Again no date is being considered — don’t expect to see Sharif in India any time soon.
When a Pakistani journalist asked about the two sides renewing the composite dialogue, which has added train and bus links but made uneven progress since it was launched in 2004, Menon’s reply was crisp: "That stage has not come yet."
In his address to the UN General Assembly, Singh rejected Sharif’s demand for resolution of the Kashmir issue on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions, saying India favoured settlement of all issues on the basis of the Simla Agreement.
“India is committed sincerely to resolving all issues with Pakistan, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, through bilateral dialogue on the basis of the Simla Agreement,” Singh told the annual General Assembly on Saturday.
The Simla Agreement implies conversion of the Line of Control into a permanent border, an assurance that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had verbally given to Indira Gandhi in July 1972. Analysts say these appear to be standard negotiating positions rather than any irrevocable statement of intent on either government’s part.
The outcome of Sunday’s meeting was on reasonable, if expected lines — a follow-up will depend on peace on the LoC and action against perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.
The meeting between the two leaders was nearly upstaged at one point by a cacophony on Sunday which erupted when the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi told a rally that Sharif purportedly called the Indian prime minister a "dehati aurat" and it was the "biggest insult" to the Prime Minister’s office.
Sharif’s office immediately clarified that he had not uttered the words and it was a description used by a Pakistani journalist reporting on an interaction with Sharif over breakfast. Other journalists present at the breakfast confirmed that while Sharif didn’t put down the Indian prime minister, he grumbled obliquely about Singh complaining to President Obama on Friday about Pakistan being an epicentre of terrorism.