‘Let's do something solid, then celebrate’

Unscheduled and unscripted it may have been, but the informal meeting which took place between the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit here Tuesday allowed the two leaders to bask in the afterglow of Islamabad's recent decision to normalise trade relations with New Delhi.

Giving a brief account of the meeting to reporters on board his special flight back to India, Dr. Manmohan Singh said he began by thanking his Pakistani counterpart, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, for moving ahead with his promise to grant India most favoured nation trading status. “[He] replied that he had worked very hard on this,” Dr. Singh said.

(Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai — who was at the meeting along with National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon — said Mr. Gilani described the move as his initiative to improve relations and acknowledged the decision had not been easy as there had been “differences” in Pakistan on the issue.)

Dr. Singh said Prime Minister Gilani made two requests. “He asked if we could supply power from [our] Punjab to his country ... And he told me, 'You should come on a visit to Pakistan'.”

Promising to look into the possibility of electricity exports, Dr. Singh said he would like to visit Pakistan but only “after something solid” is achieved on the various subjects that currently make up the dialogue process.

Soon after the meeting, the Pakistani Prime Minister's office issued a brief release stating that both leaders “expressed their desire to intensify the dialogue process for further engagements.” (sic)

Speaking to ANI, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who was also present at the informal meeting, said both countries recognised the need to go beyond the stage of dealing with the “trust deficit” and move towards a “result-oriented dialogue.”

She said it was fortunate that the leadership of both Pakistan and India — she identified in particular President Asaf Ali Zardari, Mr. Gilani, Dr. Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi — was committed to taking the bilateral relationship forward through dialogue. “The people of both countries need to have the confidence that this dialogue will help Pakistan and India resolve their issues,” she stressed.

Ms. Khar said it was a good thing that Indian and Pakistani leaders got a chance to meet each other in international and regional forums. “Speaking of regional forums, one of the most important ones is Saarc [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation]. But unfortunately, instead of going forward, Saarc has been held back by the India-Pakistan issue.”

Asked about the next steps forward, Ms. Khar said she was looking forward to welcoming External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna in Islamabad in July.

More In: National | News