Posts Tagged ‘ India and Pakistan ’

Pakistan Leader’s India Visit Hailed For Its Symbolism

By Mark Magnier for The Los Angeles Times

Pakistan’s president arrived in India on Sunday, the first official visit one leader of the wary neighbors has paid to the other nation in seven years. No breakthroughs were announced, but both sides hailed the meeting as a sign of easing tensions along one of the world’s most dangerous borders.

Spinmeisters on both sides worked overtime to lower public expectations of the “private” trip that saw Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discuss the 2008 terrorist attack on the Indian city of Mumbai, modest if expanding trade links, the disputed territory of Kashmir and efforts to bring various militants to justice.

The Pakistani president then visited a famous Muslim shrine for Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, offering a $1-million contribution.

“I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit,” Singh said. “The relations between India and Pakistan should become normal — that is our common desire.”

The rapid-fire luncheon and shrine visit weren’t enough to overturn long-standing distrust between the nuclear neighbors, however, as summed up in a headline in India’s Mail Today tabloid newspaper: “Eat, Pray, No Love.”

The meeting is part of an apparent effort to follow the diplomatic model in place between India and China, which fought a war in 1962 over their disputed border: Put aside the most nettlesome issues for the time being and focus on building investment and trade links that benefit both sides.

This year, India and Pakistan approved a most-favored-nation agreement, lowering taxes that impede trade. Although India had offered this benefit to Pakistan in 1996, it wasn’t reciprocated until recently. Official two-way trade of about $2.6 billion is heavily weighted in India’s favor.

Sunday’s one-day visit was heavy on symbolism if not on substance. Zardari invited Singh for a reciprocal visit to Pakistan, which the Indian leader accepted, although no date was set. Zardari’s 23-year-old son, Bilawal, invited ruling Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to Pakistan, which was also accepted, again with no date set.

On other fronts, both sides agreed in principle to ease visa restrictions. India offered its assistance in the wake of this weekend’s massive avalanche in the Siachen Glacier area, which buried about 130 people on the Pakistani-controlled side of the border in disputed Kashmir. And both sides did lots of glad-handing for the cameras.

“We had fruitful bilateral talks,” Zardari said. We “hope to meet on Pakistani soil very soon.”

But any bid to bring to justice those who planned the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed at least 166 people was sidestepped. India has long blamed Pakistani-based groups for plotting the attack.

Last week, Washington offered a $10-million reward for information leading to the capture of one Pakistani militant leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who enjoys widespread support in Pakistan.

Analysts on both sides of the divide welcomed the gradual thaw even as they acknowledged its slow pace. That no date was set for a return visit, and that Congress Party head Sonia Gandhi — characterized by some as India’s real leader behind the scenes — didn’t meet Zardari or attend the lunch, suggests the Indian government is wary of getting too far ahead of public opinion, some observers said.

“There have been some useful steps forward,” said B. Raman, director of Chennai’s Institute for Topical Studies and a former Indian intelligence officer on the Pakistan desk. “But the government has taken a cautious line.”

The fact that Zardari, 56, made the trip at all suggests that Pakistan’s military realizes improved relations are in its interest, added Talat Masood, an analyst and retired Pakistani general.

“They’re overstretched, realize the economy’s in a shambles and that you can’t have a genuine defense without a good economy,” Masood said. “It’s very sad in a way, that the process has been held hostage to jihadi groups and hard-rightists on both sides.”

Singh, 79, heading a weak government beset by corruption scandals, has pushed for improved ties with Pakistan in a bid to secure a legacy, analysts on both sides said. “Prime Minister Singh realizes he’s only going to be there a few more months,” said Masood. “He wants to do something positive so he’s remembered.”


Two Die in Gunfire at India-Pakistan Border

By Augustine Anthony for Reuters

An exchange of fire at the Indian-Pakistan border near Pakistan’s Punjab province has killed two Indian troops and wounded a Pakistani soldier and several villagers, officials said Wednesday.

The neighbours have in the past exchanged almost daily fire across what is known as the Line of Control separating the two armies in Kashmir, but the latest incident occurred in the Sialkot sector of Pakistan which rarely experiences trouble.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Rangers said Indian border security forces fired automatic weapons and mortars at a village along the Sialkot working boundary, north of the Pakistani city of Lahore.

“First they fired yesterday morning and then again in the evening and the firing continued sporadically throughout the night until Wednesday morning,” said Nadeem Raza.

“One of our soldiers and several villagers have been wounded in the Indian firing.” A senior Indian border official confirmed the incident but said Indian forces retaliated for “unprovoked firing” from the Pakistani side.

“We were facing unprovoked firing from the Pakistani side for the last two days, resulting in the death of two of our men. We were forced to retaliate,” said K. Srinivasan. “The firing was precise, but at this stage we cannot say for sure who fired at us.”

The flare-up comes ahead of Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna’s trip to Pakistan next week to meet with his counterpart in a renewed bid to normalise ties.

Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours, who have fought three wars since 1947, were frozen when Pakistan-based militants attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.

A late 2003 cease-fire between the two sides across the cease-fire line in Kashmir has largely held although there have been several exchanges of fire over the past year. Raza said Pakistani forces returned fire after Indian forces “did not respond to the call for a flag-meeting” and continued firing.

The Director General of Pakistan Rangers in Punjab, Major General Yaqub Khan, said a protest had been lodged with Indian forces. “In future, a strong reply will be given by Rangers and loss of civilian lives and property will not be tolerated at any cost,” he was quoted as saying in a statement issued after visiting the area.

This was the third violation of a cease-fire in that area in the last two weeks, according to the statement. India has long accused Pakistan of backing militants fighting Indian security forces in the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Pakistan supports what it calls a freedom struggle by the people of Kashmir against what it sees as the brutal and illegitimate Indian occupation of the region. But it denies arming the guerrillas, who have been fighting Indian forces since 1989.

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