Modi, Sharif begin bilateral talks in Russia; Cong says exercise futile

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Ufa, Russia
  • Updated: Jul 10, 2015 09:56 IST
PM Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, China's Xi Jinping, Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif and leaders of other nations pose for a photo in Ufa. (PTI photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on the sidelines of a summit in the Russian city of Ufa on Friday, raising hopes of a thaw in frosty ties between the South Asian rivals.

The two leaders met informally at a dinner hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

On the eve of the talks, Pakistan violated ceasefire again at the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, in which one BSF jawan was killed.

The United States welcomed the meet Modi and Sharif, saying the tension between the two South Asian neighbours is not in anyone's interest.

"We want to see the tensions (between India and Pakistan) reduce. It's in nobody's interest for the tensions to rise... An awful lot of kids are living in that part of the world and everybody would want them to have a better future," US state department spokesperson John Kirby said at a press conference.

The Sonia Gandhi-led Congress, however, said the talks were an exercise in futility.

This is first structured meeting between the two leaders since Sharif attended Modi's inauguration last May. The two had exchanged gifts, the sari-shawl diplomacy, and tweets, which had given rise to hope of improvement in ties between the two rivals, both nuclear powers.

Modi and Sharif met in November last year during the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, but they did not hold any bilateral meeting. Pakistan had stymied a SAARC agreement on Motor Vehicles during the summit that was intended to improve connectivity between the South Asian nations.

"We want good, friendly relations with neighbours, but conditions apply: the condition of peace being maintained in the region," said national security adviser Ajit Doval.

Ties between India and Pakistan nosedived after New Delhi called off talks between the foreign secretaries last August, incensed that Pakistan's envoy hosted Kashmiri separatists in the run-up to the talks. Continued firing at the border in violation of the ceasefire also hurt the ties.

The bilateral ties saw a downswing after that, and Pakistan's raising the Kashmir issue at international forums did not help matters.

The release of 26/11 mastermind Zakiur-Rehman Lakhvi, despite India voicing concerns, also added to India's concerns.

Friday's meeting is likely to see Modi take up India's concern over the release of Lakhvi by a court in Pakistan.

The Indian Army's precision attack on a northeast militant camp in Myanmar last month had provoked sharp words from Pakistan, including its military, with the message that "Pakistan is not Myanmar".

The Pakistani parliament passed a resolution condemning India's 'hegemonic' mindset and former president Pervez Musharraf went to the extent of issuing nuclear threats.

The recent ice-breaker was Modi's recent telephone call to Sharif to greet him on Ramzan followed by a decision by the two countries to release fishermen in each other's jails.

Indian sources, however, said red lines still existed, including an atmosphere free of violence and the absence of a third party (Hurriyat).

Sources said all issues of mutual concern will be raised at the meeting which was sought by the Indian side. But India's concerns about Pakistan's efforts to curb terrorism and bring the 2008 Mumbai attackers are key to taking the peace process forward.

Despite pressure from New Delhi, progress against the accused in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks has remained tardy, especially the release of Lakhvi that continues to be an irritant in bilateral ties.

Pakistan said the meeting will see a "comprehensive exchange on all issues of common interest".

"It has always been Pakistan's policy to seek cordial and cooperative ties with all neighbours, including India," the Pakistani foreign office spokesperson said.

"It was in the pursuit of this objective that Pakistan prime minister would be meeting the Indian prime minister for a comprehensive exchange on all issues of common interest."

Read: Day ahead of Modi-Sharif talks, BSF jawan killed in Pak firing

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