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Manmohan Singh, Zardari agree India-Pakistan potential untapped

Siddharth Varadarajan

End to terrorism would create conducive conditions, says India


Zardari suggests reactivation of joint terror mechanism

Menon refuses to predict what would happen next in terms of wider dialogue process


Yekaterinburg: If his much-awaited encounter with President Asif Ali Zardari tended to overshadow Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Brazil, Russia, India and China summits in this Russian city on Tuesday, the bilateral meeting was also not without a certain sense of historical irony.

The last time Indian and Pakistani leaders met on the soil of the Eurasian superpower was in Tashkent in 1966, when Lal Bahadur Shastri and Ayub Khan signed a declaration formalising the end of the 1965 war.

Since Tashkent, India and Pakistan fought each other twice, in 1971 and 1999, and nearly went to war again in 2002. Sabres were rattled again following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai of November 2008 only to be left in their scabbards, but the peace process went into suspended animation.

In line with his remarks to Parliament in Delhi last week, Dr. Singh told Mr. Zardari that he was all for resumption of talks and that there was a vast untapped potential to the bilateral relationship that had so far remained untapped by the dialogue process, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters. “But since we can’t wish away the factors that have disrupted the dialogue, they decided on this discussion between the two Foreign Secretaries,” he added.

The reference to untapped potential holds out the prospect of a potential expansion in areas of bilateral discussion, including those like water which Pakistan is deeply concerned about, provided conducive conditions are created for the resumption of the peace process.

The Prime Minister reiterated “the full extent of [India’s] expectation” that Pakistan would take “strong and effective action” to prevent its soil being used to stage attacks on India, that it act against the perpetrators of past attacks and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its territory,” Mr. Menon said. On his part, Mr. Zardari described some of his government’s efforts to deal with this menace “and also explained the problems that Pakistan faces in this regard,” the Foreign Secretary added.

In Islamabad, the Pakistani foreign office said Mr. Zardari had suggested reactivation of the joint terror mechanism the two countries had established in 2006.

“Clear mandate”

Mr. Menon refused to predict what would happen next in terms of the wider dialogue process. The two Foreign Secretaries now had a very clear mandate, he said. “We’d like to hear what they’ve done [on terrorism]. Let’s see what they come back with. Let’s have this discussion.” “All I can say is that the leaders will take stock when they meet at Sharm-el-Shaikh in July. The rest would be astrology.”

Asked whether he agreed that Islamabad was also a victim of terrorism, Mr. Menon acknowledged that there was terrorism in Pakistan but said that was not the issue here. “What has paused our dialogue is terrorism from Pakistan against India … We are supposed to discuss what Pakistan has done about that, whether it’s the previous attacks, Mumbai or whatever. We will tell them what concerns us. We will then report to our leaders and they will then take stock of this when they meet. I am trying to be very precise, without getting into the larger philosophical questions of where it might lead, what it could mean in terms of whether Pakistan is a victim or not.”

“Useful exercise”

While the two principals were meeting, Mr. Qureshi told reporters the outcome should not be prejudged. But he said both countries stand to gain from resumption of dialogue. “Pakistan feels it was a useful exercise and we made good progress, slow but steady, and it was sound progress.”

Asked if the resumption of dialogue would help Pakistan to move troops to its western frontier where the country’s armed forces were battling the Taliban, Mr. Qureshi said there was no link.

“Pakistan is already doing that, it has deployed troops where they are required and the Pakistan Army is doing its job.” The problem of terrorism was not country-specific, he said. “We in Pakistan are victims of terrorism, our people and our economy are affected, and we as a people have decided to deal with this in a decisive manner.” The Pakistani government has moved “in a very effective manner and there has been a lot of internal dislocation,” he said, referring to the more than two million civilians who have fled the Swat valley since major military operations began last month. “We are paying a price but it is a price worth paying.”

Mr. Qureshi directed enquiries on the legal case against the Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders involved in the Mumbai conspiracy to the Interior Ministry. He described the recent release from house arrest of LeT chief Hafiz Saeed as a court decision but said an appeal was being considered by the provincial government.

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