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Bilateral relations: India, Pak to adopt fresh approach

A day after assuming office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday strongly raised with visiting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the issue of terrorism breeding on Pakistani soil and pressed for expediting the trial of those responsible for the November 2008 (26/11) terrorist attack on Mumbai.

In a 50-minute meeting, both leaders decided to begin a “new chapter in their relations” with a “fresh and new approach”, riding on the fact that they’d come to power after landslide victories in their respective countries (the Pak PM in May last year).

Modi, it is believed, expressed serious concern over the slow progress in the 26/11 trial. India also talked about Jamat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, mastermind of the Mumbai plot, sources told Business Standard.

Also present were External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. Sharif was flanked by Sartaj Aziz, his advisor on national security and foreign affairs, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and Sharif’s special assistant on foreign affairs, Tariq Fatemi.

Addressing the media later, Foreign Secretary Singh reiterated that Modi asked Pakistan to “abide by its commitment to prevent its territory from being used for terror”, only after which normal trade relations were possible. She also highlighted the fact that Modi asked the Pakistani government to assist in the 26/11 case.

Asked whether the Jammu & Kashmir dispute was discussed, Singh said both sides vowed to keep the discussions going and prepare a road map. Foreign secretaries from the two countries are expected to meet soon.

On Pakistan granting India non-discriminatory trade access, Singh said this was discussed and the two countries were ready to talk about normalisation of trade relations at the earliest.

Sharif said both sides should strive to eradicate instability and insecurity from the region. “I intended to pick up the threads of the Lahore Declaration (February 1999)… I urged that we had to strive to change confrontation into cooperation,” he said.

He cautioned that accusations and counter-accusations would be counter-productive. “My government, therefore, stands ready to discuss all issues between our two countries, in a spirit of cooperation and sincerity,” Sharif said. He asserted both sides had to “overcome the legacy of mistrust and misgivings”, while aiming at the common objectives of “peace and development”.

Before leaving for Pakistan, Sharif visited the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort, while driving past Chandni Chowk early in the morning. After meeting Modi, he proceeded to meet former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and recalled the latter’s historic visit to Lahore in 1999.

Sharif again invited Modi to visit Pakistan. Singh said dates would be worked out.

It was learnt the two leaders also exchanged some gifts during their meeting. While Modi gave a Pashmina shawl for Sharif’s mother, the latter had brought along carpets and sweets for the former.

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