NEW DELHI – New Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with the leader of rival Pakistan on Tuesday and asked that his country “abide by its commitment” to prevent terrorism against India arising there and to speed up investigations into the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. They also discussed increasing trade and other exchanges.
Modi met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the leaders of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Mauritius, Bangladesh and the Maldives, a day after they attended his inauguration. But all eyes were watching the meeting between Modi and Sharif for signs of a thaw in the tense relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
“The prime minister underlined our concerns related to terror. It was conveyed that Pakistan must abide by its commitment to prevent its territory and territory under its control from being used in terrorism against India,” Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh told reporters.
Sharif told reporters that the meeting should be “a historic opportunity for both our countries.”
Sharif said both leaders were elected with popular mandates and could succeed in “turning a new page” in their countries’ often-hostile relations. He said both shared the goal of economic development, which could not be achieved without peace and stability in the region.
“I urged that we had to strive to change confrontation into cooperation. Engaging in accusations and counter-accusations would be counter-productive, I emphasized,” Sharif said, adding that “my government, therefore, stands ready to discuss all issues between our two countries, in a spirit of cooperation and sincerity.”
Modi also asked that Pakistan hasten its investigation into the 2008 attack on Mumbai, India’s financial hub, in which Pakistani militants killed 166 people, and put the perpetrators on trial, Singh said.
The two countries’ foreign secretaries will stay in touch and “explore how to move the relationship forward,” Singh added.
The two leaders also discussed increasing trade between their nations. The countries have pushed bilateral trade and increased people-to-people contacts even as the thorny issues of terrorism and the status of the disputed Kashmir region remain unresolved.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and is claimed by both. The two countries fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over it.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States welcomed the Modi-Sharif meeting and “any and all steps India and Pakistan take to strengthen and deepen their dialogue and cooperation.”
Meawhile on Monday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told an Indian television channel that the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind last Friday’s attack on an Indian consulate in western Afghanistan. Gunmen armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the building in Herat, but the diplomatic staff escaped unharmed.
Karzai said he received the information from “a Western intelligence agency.”
Lashkar-e-Taiba was also blamed for the Mumbai attack.
On Tuesday, a man who identified himself as a Lashkar-e-Taiba spokesman named Abdullah Ghaznavi denied that the group was responsible for the consulate attack.
“We have nothing to do with any attack in Afghanistan,” he said.
Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a solid majority in the 543-member lower house of India’s parliament, enabling him to set priorities without being constrained by coalition partners.
Modi has picked 45 Cabinet ministers, who were sworn in alongside him. Former BJP President Rajnath Singh was named home minister, former opposition leader Sushma Swaraj is the new foreign minister, and BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley will head the ministries of finance and defense.