Emerging from an hour-long meeting with counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani — they met at the Shangri-La resort on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Gilani as a “man of peace” and said the dialogue process started in Thimphu last year had yielded “positive results” but “more needs to be done”.
“And, therefore, we have decided that we will resume this dialogue with the expectation that all issues which have bedeviled relations between our two countries will be discussed with all the sincerity that our two countries can bring to bear on these talks,” Singh said.
Gilani was very keen that Singh visit Pakistan. In very “emotional terms”, he told Singh that the visit would give him an opportunity not only to build trust but also to visit his ancestral home. Singh said he would look forward to the visit. Dates would be worked out through mutual discussions.
Maintaining that they discussed issues “very openly”, Gilani said, “I can only assure that I have discussed all issues, all core issues, and also the issues related to water, related to terrorism, related to Sir Creek, related to Siachen, related to trade, related to Kashmir. We have discussed all core issues. The Prime Minister has always been open. He said that put all the cards on the table, I am ready to discuss each and every issue. And I think that the next round of talks will be more constructive, more positive, and will open a new chapter in the history of both countries.”
Gilani thanked Singh for supporting Pakistan’s successful bid to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and for not blocking Islamabad’s move to have greater access to European Union markets.
Singh, on his part, said, “I have always believed that the destinies of people of India and Pakistan are very closely linked, interlinked, that we have wasted a lot of time in the past in acrimonious debates. The time has come to write a new chapter in the history of our relationship. And I am very happy that Prime Minister Gilani fully endorses this view that we have an unique opportunity, and, therefore, the next round of talks should be far more productive, far more result-oriented in bringing the two countries closer to each other than ever before.”
Singh and Gilani have met four times since the latter took over as Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2008. “I have always regarded Prime Minister Gilani as a man of peace. Every time I have met him in the last three years, this belief has been further strengthened.” The two leaders had a one-on-one meeting for half an hour which was preceded and followed by talks along with delegations.
Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said Singh underlined that the era of accusations and counter-accusations should be “behind us”. They agreed that the process of trade normalisation should be pursued to its logical conclusion by conducting trade on MFN basis at the earliest, that all countries in the South Asian region would move forward on meeting obligations under SAFTA, and that India would move towards a preferential trade agreement with Pakistan. They also decided that the liberalised visa regime which has been negotiated should be put in place at the earliest.
Mathai said the Prime Minister mentioned that terrorism was a perennial concern and now affected Pakistan as well. “We have an obligation to work together to ensure that it does not spoil the atmosphere of our bilateral relations. We need to move on to a constructive agenda,” he quoted the Prime Minister as saying.
On the Pakistani proposal to send a judicial commission to take forward issues relating to the Mumbai attacks, Mathai said: “Prime Minister did mention that it is imperative to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice. Prime Minister also mentioned that on the judicial commission proposal, we will be responding to the Pakistanis as soon as possible. Gilani also assured Prime Minister that all possible steps were being taken in the context of the joint fight against terror.”
From the Pakistan side, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and Interior Minister Rehman Malik were among those present at the meeting. The Indian delegation included External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Mathai.