India, Pakistan should work together to combat terror: Pranab

May 20th, 2008 - 7:20 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif
By Manish Chand
Islamabad, May 20 (IANS) Lauding “a new democratic environment” in Pakistan, India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Tuesday said the two countries should work together to combat terrorism, and underlined that the future of the talks would depend on an “atmosphere free from terrorism, violence or the threat to it”. “My present visit to Pakistan comes amidst a new democratic environment of great promise. We congratulate the people of Pakistan for the successful conduct of the general election,” Mukherjee said as he arrived here by a special aircraft for two days of talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

“The present environment, I am sure, will help us in addressing various issues related to peace, stability and economic development,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee was received warmly at the Chaklala airport here by Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik. He headed to Punjab House to pay a courtesy call on former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is an ally of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Mukherjee is scheduled to meet PPP’s co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari later in the day and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani Wednesday.

Mukherjee will separately call on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi Wednesday.

This is the first high-level engagement between the two countries since a civilian government was installed in Islamabad after the Feb 18 elections.

Putting India’s engagement with Pakistan in the broader regional perspective, Mukherjee took note of “considerable progress” in India’s composite dialogue with Pakistan and said the “talks will be useful for furthering peace, stability, people-to-people contact and accelerated economic development of both our countries, as well as our entire region”.

“Several proposals in the political, economic and regional fields are on the anvil for consideration and implementation,” he said.

But even as he set the positive tone for engagement, Mukherjee reminded his interlocutors in Islamabad about India’s concerns on cross-border terrorism - an issue that has shadowed ties between the two countries for years and which has acquired an added importance after the recent bombings in the Indian tourist town of Jaipur.

“We approach the next round in a spirit of cooperation, trust and pragmatism. This predicated on an atmosphere free from terrorism, violence or the threat of it,” Mukherjee said in a statement.

Underlining the damaging consequences of terrorism in the region, Mukherjee expressed India’s grief at “the tragic assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto”.

Alluding to her tragic assassination by militants Dec 27 last year, Mukherjee said: “Her loss is still a fresh wound. Not just Pakistan, but our entire region has lost a charismatic leader of great promise, foresight and capability.”

“For the sake of our collective futures, we must work together to combat the menace of terrorism. That would be a fitting tribute to Mrs Bhutto’s memory and her legacy,” he said.

Mukherjee and Qureshi will discuss an array of bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security and terrorism and are expected to announce fresh confidence building measures (CBMs) in the form of more cross-border trade and travel links.

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon concluded the review of composite dialogue with his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir Tuesday with both sides expressing “satisfaction at the progress” of the composite dialogue.

Mukherjee’s meeting with Zardari will be significant as the PPP leads the ruling coalition and his views on the peace process will give India a “more accurate sense” of the future course of relations, said an Indian official here.

Mukherjee will also meet Asfandyar Wali Khan, president of the Awami National Party (AWP), the third pillar of the ruling coalition. Khan is the grandson of the legendary Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. He may also meet right-wing leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman.

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