Moments after shaking hands, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday that his mandate was simple: to tell Pakistan that it must end all terrorism against India.
As soon as they sat down, Singh said he was happy to meet Zardari.
And then, within earshot of reporters, the PM spelt out the post-26/11 agenda for Zardari — that Pakistan must implement the assurances given to India on terrorism.
Singh, as usual, spoke in his low tone at the Silver Room of the Hyatt hotel in this central Russian city, but his remarks were audible to journalists, before they were ushered out of the meeting room.
Singh and Zardari had last met on the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly session in New York last September.
On Tuesday, they had a 45-minute one-on-one conversation.
Later, foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon said the “primary issue of terrorism will be discussed by the foreign secretaries of the two countries” before the leaders of the two countries met again in mid-July on the sidelines of an international conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Zardari’s spokesman, Farhatullah Baabar, said in a statement that the stalled peace process between the two countries had got a “fresh lease of life”. The president, he added, had reiterated Islamabad’s desire to punish the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage.
There is no resumption of the composite dialogue yet, but the reset button on the relationship appears to have been pressed by the two countries.
Menon emphasised that the foreign secretaries would discuss what Pakistan had done to tackle terrorism against India and then report to the leaders. The rest, he said, was “astrology”.
It is clear that for the moment only the issue of Pakistani action against India-specific terrorism is on the bilateral agenda, but once Singh and Zardari take stock of the situation in Egypt, opportunities for enhanced dialogue could open up.
Aware of political sensitivities back home, the government seems to have gone along with a limited resumption of talks with Pakistan which would focus directly on Islamabad’s actions to curb terrorist attacks against India.
Asked for a response to the “tough language” used by Singh on terrorism, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi downplayed the issue. “I would look at it differently,” he said. “The fact that this (Zardari-Manmohan) meeting is happening is a positive development.”
About the release of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba leader Hafiz Saeed by the Lahore High Court, he said, “The courts in Pakistan are independent and we, like you, have to respect their decisions.”
Would the Pakistani government file an appeal in the Supreme Court against Saeed’s release? “We’re contemplating such an appeal,” said Qureshi.