Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on Friday agreed to eliminate terror and expedite the trial of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, but steered clear of the Kashmir issue during their bilateral talks that took place after a year.
The much-awaited hour-long talks on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Ufa gave a tangible push to normalcy in ties between the two countries.
The foreign secretaries of both countries, India’s S. Jaishankar and Pakistan’s Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, said that the Modi-Sharif meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere.
The joint statement said: “The two leaders exchanged views on issues of bilateral and regional interest”.
Both the foreign secretaries refused to take questions after taking turns to read out the joint statement.
“They agreed that India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues. Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.”
The joint statement said that Nawaz Sharif reiterated his invitation to Modi to visit Pakistan for the SAARC Summit in 2016 which the Indian prime minister accepted.
They two leaders also agreed to hold a meeting in New Delhi between the two National Security Advisors (NSAs) to discuss all issues connected to terrorism and have “early meetings of DG Border Security Force of India and DG Pakistan Rangers followed by that of the Director Generals of Military Operations”.
Decision for release of fishermen in each other’s custody, along with their boats, within a period of 15 days as well as a mechanism for facilitating religious tourism was also taken.
India and Pakistan “agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples”.
As many as 166 people, including foreigners, were killed in the November 26-28 Mumbai terror carnage unleashed by 10 Pakistani gunmen.
The Modi-Sharif meeting is believed to have steered away from the contentious Kashmir issue.
Modi and Sharif met in November last year during the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, but they did not hold any bilateral meeting.
The two had held a bilateral meeting on May 26 last year during the swearing-in of Modi.
For Modi, who has accepted Sharif’s invite to attend the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016, it will be his first visit to Pakistan after becoming prime minister, and will provide another opportunity for both leaders to hold talks.
Modi and Sharif, who arrived here on Thursday, met informally at a dinner hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday night. Both leaders had exchanged pleasantries.
Responding to questions on his meeting with Modi, Sharif said the “foreign secretaries have made a draft”.
Asked if he was happy about the meeting, he said: “Yes”.
In New Delhi, Bharatiya Janata Party leader M.J. Akbar described the talks as a success and said: “The meeting was a breakthrough, the reason for this is very clear as for the first time Pakistan has accepted our definition of terrorism.”
“For the first time Pakistan has accepted to combat terrorism in ‘all its forms’,” he said, while pointing out that Pakistan had, for long, tried to play a nuanced game on this subject by trying to differentiate between good terrorism and bad terrorism.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the joint statement by India and Pakistan is a “step forward” in normalising bilateral relations.
He said the proposed meetings between Border Security Force (BSF) of India with Pakistani counterparts will help to stabilise the situation at the India-Pakistan border.
“The engagement at different levels will hopefully open new possibilities,” the home minister said in a series of tweets.
The home minister also welcomed decision to expedite Mumbai terror attack trials.
The opposition Congress criticised the Modi-Sharif meeting and questioned what were the “circumstances” that the meeting had to be called.
“Pakistan killed an Indian soldier during ceasefire… and Prime Minister Modi is meeting Nawaz Sharif…. This is the government that made tall claims that they will teach a lesson to Pakistan,” Congress leader Meem Afzaal told reporters in New Delhi.
“Today the PM is meeting Nawaz Sharif without any reason… We would like to know what were the circumstances that Modi had to invite Sharif for the meeting,” he said.
The US had welcomed the meeting between Modi and Sharif, saying the tension between the two South Asian neighbours is not in anyone’s interest.