NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may have felt privileged to be in Delhi, which he said he did, to watch the inauguration of India’s first far right prime minister, but his comments following a bilateral meeting with Mr Narendra Modi on Tuesday seemed to vent a degree of unease too.
“Engaging in accusations and counter-accusations would be counter-productive, I emphasised,” Mr Sharif said of his meeting with Mr Modi, which he otherwise described as good and constructive. “After all, we owe it to our people to overcome the legacy of mistrust and misgivings,” he said, stressing an overused cliché though he might have really meant it.
There were parallel narratives about how the Sharif-Modi meeting went about, a familiar obfuscation not unusual in an India-Pakistan context. What seemed to be a win-win visit for both sides, however, abruptly turned into Mr Modi’s ‘direct’ message to his guest on terrorism.
Modi accepts invitation to visit Pakistan
There should be a complete halt to cross-border attacks in India, and the court case on the Mumbai nightmare should be speeded up with the guilty punished. The way the Indian media repeated it over and over it created the impression that little else was discussed. This was of course not the case.
Mr Sharif had already made considerable accommodation for the visit by shunning a standard meeting with Kashmir’s resistance leaders in Delhi. Kashmir was mentioned though, but it was by way of his reference to the Lahore process.
Before checking out from his tightly guarded hotel, Mr Sharif shared his faith with the media in discussing “all issues between the two countries in a spirit of cooperation and sincerity”.
His government stands ready to discuss all issues with India, in a spirit of cooperation and sincerity.
“We agreed that our meeting in New Delhi should be a historic opportunity for both our countries. I pointed out that we were at the beginning of our respective tenures, with a clear mandate. This provides us the opportunity of meeting the hopes and aspirations of our peoples that we will succeed in turning a new page in our relations. The one and a half billion people of the two countries want us to focus on their well-being and welfare,” he said.
During his 45-minute meeting, Mr Sharif said he also recalled his invitation to then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to visit Lahore in February 1999 and that he “intended to pick up the threads of the Lahore Declaration, from where it had to be left off in October 1999”.
Mr Sharif told Mr Modi that they had a common agenda of development and economic revival, which is not possible to achieve without peace and stability in the region.
“I urged that together, we should rid the region of instability and insecurity, that have plagued us for decades,” he said.
“Consequently, it was important for us to work together for peace, progress and prosperity. Finally, I urged that we had to strive to change confrontation into cooperation. Engaging in accusations and counter-accusations would be counter-productive, I emphasised....After all, we owe it to our people to overcome the legacy of mistrust and misgivings.”
Both leaders agreed that this common objective could be facilitated by greater people-to-people exchanges, at all levels.
“Prime Minister Modi warmly reciprocated my sentiments and remarked that my visit to New Delhi was seen as a special gesture by the people of India. He stated that it was incumbent on both of us to work together, to achieve our common objectives for peace and development.
“I take leave of this historic city. I do so with a strong sense that the leaderships and the peoples of our two countries share a desire and mutual commitment to carry forward our relationship, for the larger good of our peoples,” Mr Sharif added.
The Indian recap of the meeting located the fulcrum on Mr Modi’s concerns with Pakistan over terrorist violence emanating from its soil. Mr Modi asked Pakistan to abide by its commitments on the issue. There were two versions about the role of foreign secretaries. Mr Sharif said they would meet soon to take the discussions forward. India’s foreign secretary Sujatha Singh appeared to believe that the foreign secretaries were required to be in touch, which could take place in a meeting or even on the phone.
However, Mr Modi and Mr Sharif agreed that the foreign secretaries of the two countries would be in touch to see how they could move forward on bilateral relations.
Briefing the media on the meeting between the two leaders, Ms Singh said Mr Modi raised India’s concerns relating to terrorism.
He remarked that Pakistan must abide by its commitment to prevent territory of Pakistan and the territory under its control to be used to spread terrorism in India.
Mr Modi also hoped that necessary steps would be taken to expedite the Mumbai terror attack case trial in Pakistan and ensure punishment to the accused.
According to her, Mr Modi said the two countries could move towards trade normalisation on the basis of the September 2012 roadmap on political and economic relations.
Asked whether Mr Modi raised the issue of the presence of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, Ms Singh said many things including terrorism were discussed. “I don’t want to speak more on this.”
On whether Kashmir issue was discussed, Ms Singh said the two foreign secretaries would be in touch to see the best way to move forward.
On trade, she said the two leaders discussed the issue of non-discriminatory market access to be given by Pakistan and said the two countries were fully ready to resume normalisation of trade relations at the earliest.
Asked whether Mr Modi would travel to Pakistan, Ms Singh said invitations had come and they had been accepted but no dates have been finalised. “Dates have to be worked out,” she said.
About the India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue process, she said the foreign secretaries would meet to find a way forward.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2014