Gilani, Manmohan talk peace amid cricket — to heal wounds

March 31st, 2011 - 1:46 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Mohali, March 31 (IANS) Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani chose an explosive India-Pakistan cricket clash here Wednesday to discuss the prospects of healing wounds and restoring peaceful relations between their two countries.

“Indeed, this meeting today once again reaffirmed the intention of both governments to take forward the process of dialogue,” Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said after the prime ministers ended their dinner at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) stadium here.

“It would be appropriate to say that today there was a Mohali spirit. This is encouraging and positive spirit,” Rao told reporters coming from the dinner meeting venue on the sidelines of the World Cup cricket semifinal match.

Explaining that “dialogue is a process with which you can understand each other better”, Rao revealed to the media what Gilani and Manmohan Singh really desired: “The goal is normalization of relations.”

Rao did not say what all the two leaders discussed, underlining that these were not formal talks but “a wideranging conversation in which they touched upon a number of issues of relevance to the relationship”.

To a question, Rao asserted that India “had not forgotten” the 26/11 attacks.

“I want to emphasis that in the course of the dialogue, prime minister reiterated the need for an atmosphere free of violence and terror in order to enable the true normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. And let me also add that prime minister Gilani shared the sentiment,” she said.

“Every such meeting between the two countries generates an extremely positive momentum.

“This is re-engagement… the understanding generated as a result has a very positive impact on the relationship.

“It’s about peace, it’s about healing wounds, it’s about reconciliation.”

Manmohan Singh, who has made building friendship with Pakistan a top priority, told Gilani that it was important to have “such exchanges” - and suggested meetings between parliamentarians of both countries.

The foreign secretary made it a point to describe Pakistan as a democracy, and said it was important to promote people-to-people contacts.

Wednesday’s Gilani-Manmohan Singh engagement followed the Indian leader’s dramatic decision to invite his Pakistani counterpart after India defeated Australia last week to set up a semifinal clash against Pakistan.

Manmohan Singh invited both Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to Mohali to watch the India-Pakistan match. Zardari expressed his inability to come but Gilani agreed.

Rao said India and Pakistan — whose relations touched an all-time low after the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008 — had set in motion the dialogue process after a certain gap.

“We have begun this year with a very positive agenda of contact and exchanges between India and Pakistan. It is a good augury for the future.”

Gilani, along with his 45-member entourage of senior Pakistani politicians, arrived in Mohali Wednesday.

He was greeted by Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot, and then met Manmohan Singh at the stadium, which was packed with thousands of Indian and Pakistani spectators, as well as the political and business elite of the country.

After the national anthems rang around the stadium, both leaders walked down the green, where they shook hands with all the players.

They watched the cricket for some hours, the two leaders went to their bases in Chandigarh, before meeting again for dinner at the PCA clubhouse.

The two prime ministers returned to their box, clapping, as the stadium roared around them as the last Pakistani wickets began to fall.

There was no mention of the Kashmir dispute at the briefing, with Rao stating that the “focus was on development, economic growth, on trade, on access to technology, on health on education - all the issues that concern the future of people in both the countries”.

With sports being in the air, the Pakistani prime minister hoped that the Indian cricket team would also be playing on Pakistani soil against their Pakistani counterpart soon.

Among other issues, the two leaders also spoke about the current unrest sweeping the Middle-East, where both countries have large diaspora.

It was their third meeting in three years, but the first time that the venue is one of their own countries, rather than in a third nation on the sidelines of a multilateral summit.

The last time the two prime ministers met to try and resolve the fraught relationship was in April 2010 in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit.

Before that, the two met on July 16, 2009 at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm-el-Sheikh on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit. This was five months after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack.

With sports being in the air, the Pakistani prime minister hoped that the Indian cricket team would also be playing on Pakistani soil against their Pakistani counterpart soon.

And, a day ahead of both the prime ministers joining their citizens to cheer their teams in Mohali, the home secretaries met in New Delhi Tuesday. They agreed to set up a hotline for real-time information sharing on terrorist threats, even as Indian investigators were allowed to quiz the 2008 Mumbai attack suspects prosecuted in Pakistan.

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