Singh, Gilani set for Thimphu date today

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 29.04.10
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New Delhi, April 28: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani will meet on the Saarc summit sidelines in Thimphu tomorrow, the first bilateral talks between the two leaders in 10 months.

The last time they met was during the NAM summit in Sharm-al-Sheikh, Egypt, last July. Pakistan has indicated it wants the Sharm-al-Sheikh joint statement, which delinked talks from terrorism, to be the basis for tomorrow’s interaction.

In a carefully worded statement which didn’t specify which of the two neighbours had taken the initiative for tomorrow’s meeting, the external affairs ministry said: “It has been agreed through diplomatic channels that Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan will hold a bilateral meeting at Thimphu on April 29, 2010.”

In New Delhi, the junior minister for external affairs, Preneet Kaur, told Parliament that Pakistan had assured India credible action would be taken against the 26/11 conspirators. At tomorrow’s meeting, India is likely to insist that Pakistan expedite the trial of the Mumbai attack conspirators, take action against Jamaat-ud-Daawa chief Hafiz Saeed, and dismantle the terror infrastructure on its soil.

Pakistan, on its part, will harp on the Sharm-al-Sheikh line that the suspended dialogue should be restarted and that talks should not become hostage to terror acts.

However, Islamabad was today non-committal on action against Saeed, whom India considers a 26/11 mastermind. “Same old beaten track,” foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said, asked about Delhi’s demand on Saeed.

Qureshi said his government had arrested Saeed twice but courts let him off “because in the eyes of the judicial process, the evidence against him was not strong enough to keep him locked up”. “That is a legal process. You have an independent judiciary, so do we.”

Qureshi promised Delhi that Pakistan would collect evidence against all conspirators, but didn’t name Saeed. Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Abdul Basit said the government couldn’t arrest someone on “hearsay”.

But there was an uncharacteristic protest from Maldives today in Thimphu on how Saarc has remained hostage to the India-Pakistan rivalry. “I hope neighbours can find ways to compartmentalise their differences while finding ways to move forward. I am, of course, referring to India and Pakistan. I hope this summit will lead to greater dialogue between (them),” Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed said in his address.

In his speech at the summit, Prime Minister Singh said “Saarc’s glass was still half-empty”, a message aimed at Pakistan. “Mutual respect and tolerance are part of our civilisational heritage, so is the abhorrence of extremism, radicalism and terrorism. Let us pledge to revive the South Asia of our dreams that is once again a source of new ideas, new knowledge and new opportunities,” the Prime Minister added.

Singh’s comments did not go uncontested. Gilani said: “Only when we refuse to be held hostage to history, only when we sincerely work to build trust, resolve disputes will we be able to unleash our latent potential.”