New Delhi, Sept. 13: India and Pakistan today edged closer to announcing a breakthrough meeting between their Prime Ministers later this month, riding on fresh intent shown by Islamabad to prosecute terrorists accused of masterminding the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s special adviser, Sartaj Aziz, told the Indian foreign minister over dinner last night that Islamabad had appointed a fresh prosecutor to pursue charges against the accused terrorists, after the previous probe officer was assassinated.
A judicial commission appointed by the Pakistan court hearing the charges will visit Mumbai on September 23 to cross-question witnesses, Aziz further told Salman Khurshid.
“These are both positive steps,” Khurshid said after meeting Aziz again today in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, a grouping of Russia, China and Central Asian countries that invites India, Pakistan and other regional nations as observers.
“We welcome these moves,” Khurshid added.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had last week indicated that India would need progress on the Mumbai terror trials in Pakistan for him to go ahead with a proposed meeting with Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 29.
Singh had repeated his frequently used argument that India cannot choose its neighbours, and had praised Sharif for saying the “right things” about ties between India and Pakistan after returning to power in June.
“But there are certain harsh realities on the ground,” Singh had told reporters while returning from the G20 summit in Russia.
“If the terror acts do not stop, if those who voice terrorist thoughts move about freely, if there is no significant progress in bringing the culprits of the Mumbai massacre to book, that I have to factor in before arriving at a final decision.”
Khurshid today echoed his Prime Minister’s insistence that Pakistan demonstrate progress in its Mumbai attacks trial.
“The Mumbai incident is a very tragic and hurtful incident, and we want accountability for it,” he told Aziz.
But crucially, Khurshid broke the pattern of statements by Indian officials over the past two months that suggested that New Delhi remained dissatisfied with Islamabad’s efforts at trying the accused.
A series of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control in August added to bilateral tensions, threatening to derail the peace efforts both Sharif and Singh were trying to kick-start after earlier border incidents in January. In August, the parliaments of both India and Pakistan passed resolutions accusing the other country of jettisoning peace efforts.
In Bishkek, Khurshid suggested that initiatives like Pakistan’s appointment of a prosecutor for the Mumbai trial could help catalyse talks between the nations.
“With these moves, I think, the atmosphere can be made conducive for talks; it can be given the correct direction,” Khurshid said. “And it is in that atmosphere that talks can take place going ahead.”