PM heads to SAARC summit Wednesday, spotlight on Gilani meeting

November 8th, 2011 - 4:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Nov 8 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh heads Wednesday on a four-day visit to attend the SAARC summit in the Maldives, the Indian Ocean archipelago where he will also meet his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani and other South Asian leaders for bilateral talks.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai will be part of the prime minister’s delegation for the two-day SAARC summit that kicks off in the picturesque Addu Island Thursday afternoon.

The 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit has an overarching theme of “Building Bridges” and is expected to give fresh momentum to economic integration of South Asia, home to over one-fifth of the world’s population.

The eight-nation summit will culminate in a joint declaration Friday and four agreements, that include a pact on creating a seed bank to boost agricultural productivity and another pact on setting up a rapid action force to deal with natural disasters like cyclone and quakes.

The prime minister will also hold bilateral talks with leaders of each of the seven other South Asian countries on the margins of the summit. However, like earlier SAARC summits, this time too the spotlight will be on the bilateral meeting between Manmohan Singh and Gilani, likely on Friday.

This will be the first official talks between the leaders of India and Pakistan since they last met in Thimphu last year on the margins of the SAARC summit and the first since the two countries resumed their stalled peace process early this year. Since then, much water has flowed down the bridge, with Islamabad making some positive gestures recently that have struck a chord with New Delhi. Gilani and Singh had met in Mohali on March 30 during the India-Pakistan Cricket World Cup semi-final.

Ahead of the meeting, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai noted that there have been “some positive indicators in the last few weeks” like Pakistan’s quick action in releasing an Indian military helicopter and crew within hours after it strayed into the Pakistani territory last month and the granting of the Most Favoured Nation status to India.

Taking note of “indications of forward movement” in bilateral relations, Mathai had said that all aspects of bilateral relations will be discussed.

The two leaders are expected to discuss Kashmir and terrorism and focus on confidence-building measures to enhance people-to-people contacts.

India is also hoping that there will be greater clarity on the MFN issue, which has become entangled in conflicting statements from Islamabad, when Manmohan Singh meets Gilani.

Another highlight of the prime minister’s visit will be his bilateral talks with Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed in the capital Male that comes amid China’s attempt to increase its clout in the Indian Ocean island nation.

India is likely to seal an all-embracing agreement and a counter-terror pact after the talks. This is the first time an Indian Prime Minister is visiting the 1,190 island archipelago in nearly a decade.

In a special gesture, Manmohan Singh will address the People’s Majlis, the Maldivian parliament before returning to New Delhi Saturday evening. He will be the first world leader to address the Madivian parliament in its 78-year history.

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