Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ufa, Russia, ended with an announcement that he would visit Islamabad in 2016 for the SAARC summit, but made no commitment on restarting dialogue.
In a >joint statement after the meeting that lasted more than an hour at the Congress Hall of Ufa, the Prime Ministers tasked Foreign Secretaries S. Jaishankar and Aizaz Chowdhury with announcing a five-pronged statement of progress in their discussions, including meetings between National Security Advisers Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz and between military and border security force chiefs of the two nations, and “discussing ways and means” to expedite the >Mumbai 26/11 trial and “providing voice samples” as evidence.
They discussed humanitarian gestures of releasing more than 300 fishermen held on each side, and promoting a “mechanism for religious tourism” that will help Hindu, Muslim and Sikh pilgrims on the two sides. Leaving for Turkmenistan on Friday, Mr. Modi recorded on his Twitter handle that he was “satisfied” with all his meetings at the BRICS and SCO summits, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told presspersons that the talks had been “great”.
The NSAs will meet in New Delhi in August, ahead of the next possible meeting between the Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September. Sources said the discussions between Mr. Doval and Mr. Aziz would be the “most important” as it would discuss the outstanding issue for India on >cross-border terror groups and action against Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and other Mumbai attack accused.
Lakhvi, who was the operations commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba which had trained Ajmal Kasab and the other terrorists that attacked Mumbai, was given bail by a Pakistani trial court in April and has subsequently been exempted from personal appearances in court. In May, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had said that unless Pakistan took action against Lakhvi and other terrorists, dialogue “would not materialise”.
Restart of engagement ‘positive’
The joint statement said both sides would “cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace [terrorism] from South Asia”, prompting the BJP spokesperson to call the talks a “breakthrough”, a view that was countered by the Opposition.
Former diplomats and analysts who spoke to The Hindu said the resumption of engagement was positive, but gave no indication on the resumption of dialogue between the foreign secretaries.
Pakistan Opposition upset
Meanwhile, the fact that the joint statement didn’t contain any reference to Jammu and Kashmir and only to “all outstanding disputes” was hailed by Indian officials, while in Pakistan, the Opposition targeted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and in Srinagar, and was visibly upset over the omission.
Defence Ministry and military officials said that no date has been set for the meeting of the DGMOs, but the Directors General of the Border Security Force and Pakistani Rangers are set to meet in September. The meetings will aim to address continuing violence at the LoC and parts of the International Border especially over the past few months and infiltration attempts from Pakistan. On Thursday a BSF Jawan was killed in firing by Pakistan Rangers across the IB in Baramulla.
Meanwhile MHA officials reacted cautiously to the news that voice samples would be provided, as Pakistan has promised these in the past, and not delivered.
In the years after the Mumbai attacks, the Home Ministry has handed over more than 14 dossiers of evidence including the evidence used to complete the trial against Ajmal Kasab and others in India.
However, Pakistan has not agreed to accept much of the evidence, as its judicial team was denied direct access to Kasab in custody before he was sentenced and executed.
In Pakistan the trial has seen repeated adjournments and changes of judges. Moreover, Pakistan’s government said last week that there was no link between the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa, ruling out chances of prosecuting the “mastermind” of the attack.
The outcomes of the meeting between Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif did take many by surprise, as officials had contended the talks would only represent a “courtesy call.”
As The Hindu had reported this week, it was Mr. Modi who sent word requesting the meeting, with Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar playing a key role in setting up the talks. Sources also said a box of Pakistani mangoes, that Mr. Sharif sent Mr. Modi at the end of May set the ball rolling, with Mr. Modi sending back a warm letter of thanks.