Manmohan, Gilani discuss liberal visa regime

Addu (Maldives): Giving a push for normalisation of Indo-Pak ties, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani today wanted the liberalised visa regime being negotiated to be put in place at the earliest.

During the one-on-one meeting which lasted for about an hour on the sidelines of the SAARC summit, Singh also told Gilani that it is imperative to bring to justice perpetrators of the November 2008 terror attack on Mumbai. Singh said the two sides were happy with the progress made so far in bilateral relations and noted that the era of accusation and counter accusation should be left behind. "We are happy with the progress made so far," Singh told reporters in a brief interaction. Sharing the Indian Prime Minister`s sentiments, Gilani said, "We had very good meeting. We are moving in a positive direction ahead."

After the Singh-Gilani parleys, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters that the two Prime Ministers were of the view that the liberalised visa regime which is being negotiated by the two neighbouring countries should be put in place at the earliest. The two Prime Ministers met in a beach cottage at Shangrilla resort on the fringes of Indian Ocean and discussed a whole range of issues, including the need for Islamabad to take action against the 26/11 perpetrators and build on the recent Pakistani decision to grant the MFN status to India.

They are meeting for the second time this year after their discussions on the margins of the Indo-Pak encounter in the Cricket World Cup match in Mohali and third time in 18 months after their talks on the sidelines of the previous SAARC summit in Bhutan last year. Singh says the next round of talks should be "far more productive and bring the two countries closer to each other than ever before." "I have always regarded Prime Minister Gilani as a man of peace," Singh said showering praise on his Pakistani counterpart. Gilani said all bilateral core issues including Kashmir, Sir Creek and Trade were discussed.

Taking the Thimphu engagement forward, the meeting came a week after Pakistan took a path-breaking decision to confer MFN status to India 16 years after it got a similar treatment from New Delhi and the return of the Indian Air Force`s helicopter which had strayed into Pak-occupied Kashmir(PoK) across the LoC last month.

"We started a new process in Thimphu last year. That dialogue has made some positive results but more needs to be done. Therefore, we have decided to resume this dialogue with the expectation that all the issues that bedevilled the relationship will be discussed. I am happy that Prime Minister Gilani endorses the view that we have an unique opportunity and therefore the next round of talks should be far more far more productive far more result oriented in bringing the two countries closer to each other than even before," Singh said.

Gilani thanked Singh for supporting Pakistan at the UN Security Council for a non-permanent seat. Before the meeting, the two prime ministers shook hands and posed for photos. When the photographers pressed for a hand shake again Gilani responded "once more" and the two leaders shook again for the shutterbox. This was followed by a brief delegation level talks after which the two leaders met separately. Trade and terror was among other issues which was on the agenda. The delegation members included External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai. From the Pakistani side, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and Interior Minister Rehman Malik were among those present.

On the eve of the Singh-Gilani parleys, Krishna met Khar at least thrice on Wednesday. Krishna said there was "shrinking" trust deficit between the two countries though he asked Pakistan not to allow terrorism from its soil. Khar reciprocated by saying that her country`s soil would not be allowed to carry out terror attacks.