SHARM EL-SHEIKH: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Thursday that peace talks with Pakistan would remain on hold until Islamabad took action against the perpetrators of last year’s Mumbai attacks.
“A composite dialogue cannot begin unless and until the terrorist attacks that shook Mumbai are accounted for and the perpetrators of these heinous crimes brought to book,” Singh said.
He was speaking to reporters after talks with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Egypt.
“The starting point of any meaningful dialogue with Pakistan has to have their commitment not to let their territory be used for terrorist activities against India,” Singh added. “If acts of terrorism continue to be perpetrated, there is no question of a dialogue, let alone a composite dialogue.”
A peace process between the two nuclear-armed neighbors was put on hold following the November 2008 attacks on India’s financial and entertainment capital, in which 166 people died.
Singh’s comments appeared to contradict a joint statement with Gilani in which the two leaders stipulated that action on terrorism “should not be linked” to the composite dialogue process.
In his briefing to the media, Singh said: “There should be serious, honest efforts to bridge the gap that separates the two countries.”
The joint statement, issued after the meeting between Singh and Gilani, said they had agreed to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. “Both leaders affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and cooperate with each other to this end,” the statement said.
“Prime Minister Singh reiterated the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice and Prime Minister Gilani assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.”
It added: “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.”
Relations between India and Pakistan deteriorated sharply after the Mumbai bombings, which New Delhi blamed on the banned Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The fragile peace process, which was launched in 2004 to resolve all outstanding issues of conflict, including a territorial dispute over the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir, was suspended by India.
Pakistan has said that it would probably put the five accused of involvement in the attacks on trial this week, including the alleged mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Thursday’s encounter was the first top-level meeting between leaders of the two countries since Singh met Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of a summit in Russia last month.
On Wednesday, Gilani expressed optimism that relations between the neighbors were improving. “There has recently been some forward movement in our relations with India,” Gilani said. “We hope to sustain this momentum and move toward comprehensive engagement. We believe durable peace in South Asia is achievable.”
More than 50 heads of state from the developing world had gathered in Sharm El-Sheikh to tackle the fallout from the global economic meltdown, with calls for a “new world order” to prevent a repeat of the crisis.