SEPT 26- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has confirmed what most people knew weeks ago that he will be meeting his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York on Sunday.
In a statement released an hour before he boarded the flight for a five-day visit to the United States, the PM said he would interact with leaders from Bangladesh Nepal and Pakistan.
The Indian government meanwhile has defended Manmohan Singh’s decision to meet with Nawaz Sharif.
“If you have to make peace with you enemies, you need to talk to them,” said a senior foreign affairs advisor to the Prime Minister.
Government functionaries have tried to justify the meeting.
“It’s important for us to meet so that India’s concerns on terrorism, tension on the LoC and trade and economy are raised at the highest level and that can only happen if we meet with the other side,” said a foreign affairs mandarin.
Sunday’s meeting will be the first between the two prime ministers and also the first high-level interaction between the two sides since the beheading of two Indian soldiers in early January and the killing of five Indian soldiers on the LoC on August 6.
The last time that Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart was three years ago in Thimpu in 2010.
He did host a lunch for Asif Ali Zardari in Delhi last year, while the then Pakistani president was on his way to Ajmer for a pilgrimage. He also met him briefly at the NAM summit in Tehran last year
Manmohan Singh has been often criticised for his initiatives in trying to normalise relations with Pakistan.
His foreign policy advisors are conscious of the fact that should the latest initiative fail to yields results, his government will be roundly criticised once again for following a weak-kneed policy towards Pakistan.
Yet his advisors believe this is a risk worth taking. “We have some very serious concerns and it’s only in the fitness of things that we raise this with the new dispensation in Pakistan,” said a senior functionary in the government.
The prime minister’s foreign policy advisors have also been trying to tone down expectations from Sunday’s meeting.
“This is the first interaction with the new Prime Minister of Pakistan. Let’s see what comes out of it. Let’s not expect anything dramatic to happen,” cautioned a senior official travelling with the PM.
Conscious of the fact that the government might come in for a fresh round of criticism from the opposition if the talks do not yield concrete results, the government has been trying to stress on the positives.
Government officials say that the very fact that talks are happening is a positive development since in diplomacy, one should never shut the door on talks and the channels of communication must always be open.
Soon after Sharif took over after the May elections in Pakistan, he expressed a desire to buy electricity from India.
The government indicated that it is willing to entertain the request on a “commercial basis”.
In fact, a delegation from the power ministry of Pakistan is expected in India in the next couple of days to work out the technicalities.