Sharif hopes for a meeting with Manmohan in New York next month

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has hoped he would be able to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New York late next month to “turn a new page in bilateral relations.” In the exchange of Independence Day greetings, Dr. Singh responded by assuring Mr. Sharif of India’s commitment to pursue “peace, friendship and cooperation” with Pakistan.

Despite this exchange of courtesies and expression of optimism by the top leadership, there was no let up in both sides including their Parliaments blaming the other side. Both Houses of Parliament on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution that specifically countered the one passed by the Pakistan National Assembly (NA) that had made “baseless” allegations against the Indian Army.

India wanted to establish a long-lasting framework of friendly ties but terrorist groups nurtured by Pakistan had become the biggest obstacle. Pakistan must abide by the ceasefire commitment along the border and should not take the restraint shown by Indian armed forces for granted, it cautioned.

On Tuesday, the NA had asked India to observe restraint on the border and condemned the demonstration before the Pakistan High Commission, vandalism in Pakistan International Airlines offices here and the brief blocking of the Pakistan-bound Friendship Bus the day after five Indian soldiers were killed on the LoC. It also deplored the public vilification of Pakistan in the Indian media.

Mr. Sharif’s adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz told Geo TV that he was not optimistic about the proposed meeting between Mr. Sharif and Dr. Singh but his observations appeared to have been overtaken by the exchange of greetings between the two Premiers.

Mr. Aziz reasoned that the Indian government was under opposition’s pressure and a “meaningful” dialogue process” was possible only after general elections next year. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid remained non-committal about the prospects of a Manmohan Singh – Nawaz Sharif meeting arguing in a TV interview that a “week is a long time.” He also denied the Prime Minister’s message to Mr. Sharif ran counter to the Parliamentary resolution.

A tightened visa regime, a tool often deployed when India-Pakistan relations plummet, was evident. India withheld entry permits to Pakistan pilgrims headed for the shrine of a sub-continental Sufi saint due to “security reasons.” Visas for a cricket team from Pakistan have also not been cleared with the Foreign Office saying it will carefully evaluate the situation before taking a final decision.

Evidence of different narratives in both countries came from Pakistan High Commissioner Salman Bashir’s statement and the cyberspace. Unfurling the Pakistani flag in the High Commission, Mr. Bashir was of the view that tension between both the countries could be reduced only through dialogue but Pakistan was waiting for Indian measures to normalise the situation.

On Facebook, while accepting Independence Day greetings from an Indian friend, a Pakistani wanted to know, Bhai, yeh kya lafda khada kar diya hai aapne ? (brother, what is this problem that you have created?). The talk in India was about the midnight killings of five soldiers and frequent instances of ceasefire violation. In Pakistan, it was about vandalism of the Pakistan International Airlines office in Delhi, cancellation of Mr. Bashir’s visit to the tomb of poet Amir Khusro due to “security reasons” and charges of India violating the 2003 ceasefire agreement.

Meanwhile both Presidents have expressed the hope that the two countries would peacefully resolve all outstanding issues. President Pranab Mukherjee sent the greetings on Tuesday, the eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day, while Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari responded on Wednesday, a day before Independence Day here.

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