HindustanTimes Sun,28 Dec 2014

Modi to Sharif: Need peace for new course in ties

Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times  Islamabad/New Delhi, June 13, 2014
First Published: 15:17 IST(13/6/2014) | Last Updated: 20:33 IST(13/6/2014)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written to his Pakistani counterpart seeking a conducive atmosphere for "a new course" in ties, but a heavy exchange of gunfire between their border troops on Friday appeared to imperil the two leaders' attempts at personal outreach.

Troops from both sides used heavy guns in the Mendhar-BhimberGali-Keri forward areas of Poonch district in Jammu and Kashmir, prompting Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh to wonder where that left the sari-and letter diplomacy of the two countries.

From exchanging gifts for their mothers and writing letters to each other, Modi and Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif have seemed to try to build a personal rapport. But Friday's border firing, described by Indian Army as an unprovoked border ceasefire violation, could undermine that method of relationship building.

No casualty or damage has been reported on the Indian side of the LoC, a senior army officer said. Indian troops returned the fire.

The incident comes a day ahead of Defence Minister Arun Jaitley's visit to Jammu and Kashmir, prompting state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to question its timing.

Later on Friday, Prime Minister Modi met Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh for about three hours in a meeting that officials said was to discuss the prevailing security situation in the country and the operational readiness of troops.

Defence minister Jaitley, new National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh as well as Army Chief-designate Lt Gen Dalbir Singh were also present in the meeting.

"The briefing was broad-based. It was a detailed review of the security situation, including the internal security situation," a defence spokesperson said.

On June 11, Modi wrote to Sharif urging "an atmosphere free from confrontation and violence" that could help both countries prosper.

Thanking Sharif for attending his oath taking ceremony, Modi used the letter to condemn the recent militant attack in Karachi as well as to convey his mother's appreciation of a sari Sharif had sent her.

Modi's letter, which was in response to a similar missive from Sharif on June 2, received mixed response in Pakistan, at a time when some high officials alleged an Indian hand in the attack on Karachi Airport last week.

The letter featured prominently on talk shows on Pakistani television throughout the day.

Signalling that incidents such as Friday's border violation could come in the way of normalising relations, Foreign Secretary Singh said maintenance of peace and tranquility on the border was a "pre-condition" for better ties.

"Maintenance of peace and tranquility on LoC is one of the most important CBMs between India and Pakistan. That remains and will remain the case," she said.

Referring to the exchange of letters and gifts between Modi and Sharif, she said:  "Our policy towards neighbours has always been to work towards peaceful and cordial relationship.

"So 'sari' and letter diplomacy helps that."

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