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I did not intend to hurt Zardari, says PM

Last updated on: July 11, 2009 14:37 IST

In a surprise clarification, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that when he met Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in Russia on the sidelines of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation meeting on 16 June, he " simply forgot" that mediapersons were present around them.

The meeting had created a row in Pakistan because in the presence of media Dr Singh was seen telling Zardari that, "I am very happy to meet you but, I must tell you quite frankly that I have come with the limited mandate of discussing how Pakistan can deliver on its assurances that its territory would not be used for terrorist attacks on India."

Zardari was flummoxed that Singh was talking tough in front of television cameras who were in the room to shoot formal pictures of the meeting between two leaders. Embarrassed, Zardari requested Singh that let the media leave the room.

Now, Dr Singh has clarified, on board a press conference while returning from Italy that, "Let me say that what I had said to Zardari sahib, I had not intended to say that in the presence of media. I simply forgot that the media was present there. It was not my intention in anyway to hurt Zardari Sahib's feelings."

The incident left a bitter feeling in Pakistan and it was reported in the Pakistan media that Zaradri cancelled his visit to NAM summit in Sharm-el-sheik in Egypt due to the "snub".

However while talking about Pakistan's steps to contain terror, he said, "Well, there are difficulties, But I have not given up hope."

He repeated his earlier belief that, "I have often said India and Pakistan are close neighbours, we can choose our friends, but we have no choice with regard to our neighbours. I have always believed that India to realize its development ambitions, to realize its place in the community of nations requires working with its neighbors to bring about peace and amity in South Asia. And we will do all that is necessary to resolve all outstanding issues that have bellied India's relations with Pakistan. But it requires credible action on the part of Pakistan to deal with terrorist elements directing their energy to disrupt and destabilize our economy and polity."

He said he was looking forward to his meeting with Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani in Egypt at the NAM summit next week.

Singh said, "I do hope that out of that meeting, we will have a renewed reaffirmation on the part of Pakistan that they will bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre to justice, that they will not allow Pakistan territory to be used for terrorist acts directed against our country. If they do that we are willing to walk more than half the distance to normalize our relations."

Asked if he found any concrete steps being taken after his meeting with Zardari in Russia, Singh said, "After my talk with Zardari, Indian High Commissioner (in Pakistan) had a meeting with ISI chief and also with foreign office. They have given some suggestions and information regarding the actions taken by them to punish the perpetrators of massacre in Mumbai.  We have hope that they may move forward in this direction. I have hope and with that hope I will talk to PM Gilani."
He also said that he has asked rich and powerful countries of the G-8 and G-5 to put pressure on Pakistan to forbid the path of terrorism and opt for friendship with India.
The prime minister said he has briefed G-8 and G-5 members in Italy that India has been a victim of terrorism for the last 25-30 years. He said, "Terrorists are trying to destabilize our country. We have evidences who are responsible for it. I always appeal the world leaders that they put pressure on Pakistan to leave the path of terrorism and select friendship to move forward together."

Sheela Bhatt on board PM's flight