India-Pakistan Ties Reach ‘New Stage’ After Premiers Meet

India and Pakistan took a step forward on enforcing the cease-fire in Kashmir as prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif met in New York, where they are attending the United Nations General Assembly.

The leaders agreed that their military chiefs should meet and investigate any attacks in disputed border regions in order to prevent a recurrence, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani told reporters after their one-hour breakfast meeting, held three days after the latest deadly raid in Kashmir. Jilani didn’t specify when the military officials will meet.

The two also invited each other to their respective countries, Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon said after yesterday’s meeting.

“We have actually achieved a new stage and now have some understanding of how to improve going forward and I think that is an advance on one and a half years ago,” Menon said.

Enforcing a cease-fire in the disputed region, which India and Pakistan have fought over for six decades, is a condition for better ties, Menon said.

The need for “effective action” with regard to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack also must be addressed to see progress in bilateral trade and economic ties, Menon said. Pakistan’s Sharif said there will be “movement” because his country’s judicial commission has returned from India with depositions as part of its investigation, according to Menon.

Kashmir Killings

The meeting was the first between the leaders since Sharif took office in June on a pledge to improve ties with India. The killing of 12 people by suspected Pakistani militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir last week is the latest incident to strain relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors, which two years ago resumed peace talks to repair ties shattered by the Mumbai attack. The killing of eight Indian and Pakistani soldiers on their disputed border in the Himalayan region last month may also hamper reconciliation efforts.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since achieving independence from British rule in 1947. Two of the wars have been over Kashmir, a region that is divided between them and claimed in full by both.

In the first seven months of this year, the number of cease-fire violations along the Line of Control that separates the countries increased 80 percent from the same period last year to 57, Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony told parliament last month.

The assault on Mumbai that led to a halt in peace talks involved attacks by militants on a railway station and luxury hotels. India says the strike was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba guerrilla group with support from some members of Pakistan’s security establishment.

Trial of Suspects

Pakistan, which denies the allegation of state involvement, has begun a closed trial of some Lashkar members. India has called for more action.

Sharif told Singh that there will be progress on the investigation of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, as the Pakistani judicial commission has interviewed and cross-examined the main witnesses, and is expected to submit a report to the court soon, said Jilani.

Pakistan is the “epicenter of terrorism” in South Asia, Singh said in a Sept. 28 speech to the UN General Assembly. For relations to improve, Pakistan needs to prevent militants from using its territory as a base to attack India and stop providing support to groups behind attacks, Singh said.

New Beginning

In his speech to the UN a day earlier, Sharif said he wanted a new beginning in relations between the nations. Sharif said both countries had wasted “massive resources” on a nuclear-arms race that could have been used to improve the lives of their citizens and said a new level of cooperation could benefit the entire region.

Adding further controversy to the meeting, a Pakistani journalist working for GEO TV said that Sharif had likened Singh to a village woman because the Indian leader had spent so much time talking about Pakistan when meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Sept. 27. An Indian journalist present at the meeting denied that Sharif made those comments.

Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for India’s main opposition party, seized on the issue of Sharif’s remarks yesterday to question why Singh was continuing to meet with Sharif after last week’s attack and the alleged barb.

“There cannot be a bigger insult to the Indian prime minister,” Modi said at a rally in New Delhi. “This is an insult to the people of India.”

India will hold general elections next year.

(Corrects date references in 13th and 16th paragraphs.)
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