Ahead of Mohali, India and Pakistan agree to promote peace

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani prepared to jointly witness Wednesday's World Cup semifinal at Mohali and then exchange ideas on how to improve relations, Islamabad agreed to let Indian investigators quiz the Mumbai terror plotters in Pakistan.

Among those India will be allowed to interrogate will be Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, one of the most high profile Islamist leaders of Pakistan who allegedly mentored the Pakistani terrorists even as they slaughtered 166 Indians and foreigners in Mumbai. And for the first time since their independence in 1947, there will be a hotline between the home secretaries of India and Pakistan to exchange information about terrorist activities.

The key decisions were taken on the last day of two-day talks here between Home Secretaries G.K. Pillai and Chaudhry Qamar Zaman who were asked to reduce the trust deficit between the two countries.  Pakistan watcher and former diplomat Kuldip Nayar noted the significance of Tuesday's decisions ahead of the much-awaited Gilani-Manmohan Singh meet.

"India and Pakistan have wasted 60 years. It is very encouraging and very good that they have decided (to talk)," an upbeat Nayar told IANS. "It augurs well for both countries that our PM is taking so much personal interest to improve the relationship. I have just come from Pakistan. We found people there very positive. They want to have normal relations with India," said Nayar, who, like Manmohan Singh, strongly advocates improved India-Pakistan relations.

Neither side has outlined a formal agenda for the Gilani-Manmohan Singh meeting. Officials say what is more important than the issues they take up is their readiness to take forward the stalled peace process. Congress leader Mohan Prakash pointed out that Manmohan Singh had turned what would have been a mere sporting event into an occasion to build harmony between India and Pakistan.

According to Pakistani and Indian officials, Gilani will take a special flight from Islamabad to Chandigarh, reaching there around 11 a.m.  He will first check into hotel Taj Chandigarh, now a fortress because it is also where the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams are staying. Gilani will take an Indian Air Force chopper to go to the Mohali cricket stadium, about 10 km away. There Manmohan Singh will formally receive him.

After meeting the two teams and seeing a part of the game, Gilani and Manmohan Singh will retire to Chandigarh, before returning to the stadium late in the evening for a sumptuous dinner. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao will address the media in Chandigarh Wednesday evening.

While Manmohan Singh will return to New Delhi the same night, Gilani might spend Wednesday night in Chandigarh and return home the next day. In New Delhi Tuesday, India and Pakistan agreed to set up a hotline to share real-time information on terrorists and terror threats.

An official statement said Pakistan had also agreed to cooperate with India on the investigation into the 2008 Mumbai attack that nearly sparked a war between the two countries. The home secretaries also discussed the bombing of the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing that was initially blamed on Pakistan and which India now says was carried out by suspected Hindu radicals.

The two officials also discussed ways to ease visa norms, control the flow of narcotics and smuggling of fake Indian currency. India's National Investigative Agency can now quiz seven Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, including Lakhvi, Abu al-Qama and Zarar Shah. India provided details of the Samjhauta Express probe to Pakistani interior ministry officials.

The latest dramatic turn in India-Pakistan relations originated last week after India crushed Australia in the World Cup, earning a spot to take on Pakistan at Mohali. Manmohan Singh, who was born in Pakistan's Punjab province, immediately asked Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to come to Mohali to watch the India-Pakistan match -- and talk peace.

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