Manmohan-Gilani meet: India hopes for better ties, to press for 26/11 justice

Manmohan-Gilani meet: India hopes for better ties, to press for 26/11 justice

Manmohan-Gilani meet: India hopes for better ties, to press for 26/11 justice

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will hold talks Thursday morning with his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at Hotel Shangri La in the picturesque Addu Atoll on the margins of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit.

Manmohan Singh arrived in Addu Atoll, the venue of the first SAARC summit south of the equator, Wednesday afternoon and began a four-day visit to the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,190 islands. He was warmly received at Gan island by Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed.

He will be holding bilateral meetings with all the South Asian leaders, but the showpiece event will clearly be 30-minute Manmohan Singh-Gilani talks.  All issues will be on the table, including terrorism and Jammu and Kashmir.

The talks will take place amid improving atmospherics in bilateral ties triggered by positive gestures like Pakistan's quick action in releasing an Indian military helicopter and crew within hours after it strayed into Pakistani territory last month.

At Thursday's talks, India will press for justice for the victims of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack but the focus will be on carrying forward the peace process, given fresh momentum with Pakistan according its eastern neighbour MFN status. 

"It's not a lost cause (26/11) as far as we are concerned," an official source said.

Ahead of the meeting, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar for around 30 minutes in Gan island and discussed the agenda for the talks.

Krishna stressed on recent positive developments in bilateral ties like Islamabad granting New Delhi Most Favoured Nation status, thus  paving the way for stronger trade relations.

Krishna said the trust deficit with Pakistan was "shrinking," a point which which was acknowledged by Khar. Terror figured prominently in the discussions, with Krishna telling Khar that Pakistan should not allow its territory to be used for anti-India terror and pressed for speedy trial of 26/11 terrorists.

Krishna also welcomed a Pakistani judicial commission's visit to India to interview some persons connected with the Nov 26-28, 2008 Mumbai terror attack. "Terrorism continues to be the focal point of India's dialogue process with Pakistan. So when we discuss bilateral issues, we certainly factor terror and its various ramifications," said Krishna after meeting Khar.

Khar also struck a positive note.

"I think we can certainly say from our side that we look at this environment to have been improved considerably and the trust deficit that typically exists between the two countries and has existed for many years, to have been reduced to a large order," she said. 

Khar, Pakistan's youngest foreign minister, stressed that she expected a further improvement in the "positive environment" between the two countries.

Stressing on the "feel good factor", Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said: "More contacts, more meetings are forward looking. We did discuss the meeting at the summit level on Thursday," he said. 

In New Delhi, official sources said Manmohan Singh and Gilani will look at "the entire gamut of the relationship and discuss how to take it forward." They also stressed that "considerable progress" had been made since the two prime ministers met in Thimphu last April.  The two leaders also met in Mohali March 30 during the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semifinal.

"We have made considerable progress. There are big issues like 26/11 and terrorism that lead to a trust deficit. We are on track to reduce the trust deficit on these issues," sources said.

Amid conflicting statements from Islamabad on the grant of MFN status, the sources said there was "tremendous interest among the business community in Pakistan about opening trade with India".

Currently, legal bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is estimated at $2.7 billion but the total trade, including through third countries like Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka, could be as high as $6 billion.  The grant of MFN status, the sources said, could lead to a quantum jump in trade between the two countries.

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