South Asia News
India, Pakistan leaders want better ties
Apr 8, 2012, 11:56 GMT
New Delhi - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari held informal talks in New Delhi on Sunday where they stressed the need to normalize relations that were strained after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Zardari, the first Pakistani president to visit India in seven years, was on a private trip to a famous Muslim shrine in the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan.
Zardari held a 40-minute meeting with Singh, who had invited him for lunch, before visiting the Ajmer shrine.
'The relations between India and Pakistan should become normal, that's our common desire,' Singh told reporters in a brief statement after the one-on-one meeting with Zardari.
'We have a number of crises and we are willing to find practical, pragmatic solutions to all these crises and that's the message President Zardari and I would wish to convey,' Singh added with Zardari standing by his side.
'We would like to have better relations with India. We have spoken on all topics that we could have spoken about and we are hoping to meet on Pakistani soil very soon,' Zardari said.
Zardari invited Singh to visit Pakistan and the latter accepted and said he would visit at a 'convenient' time.
The talks between the two leaders covered terrorism and territorial disputes over Kashmir, the Siachen glacier and Sir Creek, India's foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai said at a press briefing.
The two leaders also discussed regional issues of common interest, Mathai said without mentioning Afghanistan.
The two South Asian nuclear-armed nations have a history of troubled relations and have fought three wars since their independence from British rule in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.
Talks to find solutions to several contentious issues that began in 2004 were suspended by India after the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed.
India held Pakistan-based militant groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the attacks and asked Islamabad to bring those responsible to justice. It wants Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafeez Saeed, mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, to be arrested.
The United States has placed a 10-million-dollar bounty for information that could lead to his arrest.
Mathai said the leaders agreed to move forward step by step with an immediate focus on improving trade ties and easing visa restrictions.
The disputed Siachen glacier and Sir Creek, a marshland along India's western border in Gujarat state, could be up next, diplomatic sources said.
India and Pakistan spend heavily to keep troops stationed on the glacier which lies in an uninhabited region more than 7,000 metres above sea level in the Himalayan range in Kashmir.
More than 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians were buried in an avalanche in the Siachen on Saturday and both sides have lost more troops in the Siachen to weather and accidents than in fighting.
Substantial progress was made on finding solutions to Siachen and Sir Creek during earlier rounds of talks.
'It was evident from the [Sunday's] discussions that both countries consider the dialogue process and the improvement of bilateral relations as being in the mutual interest of the people of India and Pakistan,' Mathai said.
Zardari's son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Rahul Gandhi, son of Sonia Gandhi, chief of India's ruling Indian National Congress party, met on the sidelines of the luncheon.
While Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, Gandhi is widely seen as the Congress party's next chief and a possible prime ministerial candidate to succeed Singh.
After the luncheon meeting Zardari flew to Ajmer in the state of Rajasthan, about 350 kilometres south-west of the Indian capital and praid at the shrine of the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer.
Zardari also announced a donation of 1 million dollars for the shrine, IANS news agency quoted an official Syed Zeeshan Kaptan as saying. 'I pray to Allah to make life peaceful for all of mankind,' Zardari wrote in the visitor's book.
Zardari was accompanied by a 40-member delegation including interior minister Rehman Malik, other officials and family members. After visiting the shrine, Zardari and his delegation returned to Pakistan.
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