New York encounter: Nawaz, Singh agree to lower Kashmir tensions

Premier Nawaz shakes hands with his Indian counterpart. PHOTO: AFP

Premier Nawaz shakes hands with his Indian counterpart. PHOTO: AFP

THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE, NEW YORK, 30th SEPTEMBER 2013: At their much anticipated meeting in New York on Sunday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh pledged to find ways to restore calm on their disputed border in Kashmir as an initial step towards reconciliation.

An Indian official said that the two leaders have decided to task senior military officers to “find effective means to restore the ceasefire” in Kashmir.

“Both agreed that the precondition for forward movement in the relationship, which they both desire, is really an improvement of the situation on the Line of Control,” Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon told reporters.

He said that Premier Nawaz also promised “there would be action” on punishing extremists over the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, and said the talks were friendly.

“Both India and Pakistan desire a better relationship. The meeting was useful and provided opportunity for high-level contact,” Menon said. But, he added, “As for how useful and productive the meeting was, I think the only proof will be in the months to come.”

Pakistan’s Secretary for Foreign Affairs Jalil Abbas Jilani told reporters the New York meeting set the stage for future cooperation even though they did not reach specific agreements. “The most significant aspect of the meeting was that the leaders expressed their commitment to … better relations between the two countries,” he told reporters at a separate New York briefing.

However, referring to Singh’s speech at the UN a day earlier, Jilani said “terrorism is as much a concern of Pakistan as it is of India.”

Official invitations accepted

Both Nawaz and Singh accepted invitations to visit each other’s countries, but set no dates for their proposed trips, according to Menon.

They also discussed trade and commerce, according to reports on NDTV. Premier Nawaz also told his Indian counterpart that Pakistan is bearing the brunt of terrorism, said the Indian official.

“We have two sovereign states dealing with each other,” said Menon. “We are neighbours, and as the prime minister said, you can choose your friends, not your neighbours, so we will deal with the situation … there is no question of India interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs,” said Menon.

Premier Nawaz, who has advocated an end to historic tensions with India since he swept to power in May elections, met Singh for more than an hour at a New York hotel on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Both shook hands and made small talk before entering closed-door talks with aides.

On Friday, Nawaz had, in a speech to the UN General Assembly, called for a ‘new beginning’ with India and denounced the developing nations’ years of intense military development as a waste of resources.

A day earlier Singh, who did not speak publicly on Sunday, said that Pakistan must stop being ‘the epicentre of terrorism’ in South Asia.

“For progress to be made, it is imperative that the territory of Pakistan and the areas under its control are not utilised for aiding or abetting terrorism,” Singh said from the UN podium on Saturday.

“It is equally important that the terrorist machinery that draws its sustenance from Pakistan be shut down,” he said.

Singh resisted domestic pressure for military retaliation after the Mumbai attack five years ago. The Indian leader instead pressed Pakistan to prosecute the hardline group Lashkar-e-Taiba and has said he has been disappointed by Islamabad’s response.

The 81-year-old Singh has led India since 2004 and is unlikely to stand for another term in elections next year.

The meeting is the first between the two countries’ leaders since Nawaz won May elections. Singh met in August last year with Pakistan’s then president, Asif Ali Zardari, on the sidelines of a summit in Iran of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Premier Nawaz has tried to reassure India after his election as he puts a top priority on reviving Pakistan’s troubled economy. After his election, Pakistan freed nearly 340 Indian fishermen in a goodwill gesture and Nawaz called for greater economic cooperation with the larger neighbour.

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