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Manmohan Singh, Gilani to meet on Thursday

Last updated on: July 15, 2009 18:35 IST

India on Wednesday appeared to be seeing signs of thaw in relationship with Pakistan as prime ministers of the two countries meet in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on Thursday to review progress on Islamabad's actions to punish the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks.

Foreign Secretaries of the two countries on Wednesday discussed a whole range of issues including the detention and release of Jamaat-ud Dawah chief Mohammed Hafeez Saeed, believed to be the mastermind of the 26/11 attacks.

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir talked of a "tall order" after his 90-minute meeting with his counterpart Shivshankar Menon in the small hours of the day, shortly after the Indian official landed from Paris.

"We want to have a broad-based engagement. We want to turn the corner in our relationship. We have agreed to continue our conversation. There is a tall order. It is uphill. Pakistan is prepared," Bashir said on his meeting with Menon in which they discussed all bilateral issues.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani tomorrow morning in which Pakistan's actions on its commitment to bring to justice the perpetrators of the November terror attacks will be discussed.

Sounding positive on the Indo-Pak engagement in this sea resort town, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said, "Well, I think there is less acrimony now. Even the statement made by Pakistan in the ministerial conference was a mild one and perhaps it might be the harbinger of the kind of relationship between the two countries which is in mutual interest."

On Bashir's stand that talks between the two countries should not be held hostage to one or the other issue like Saeed, Krishna said Pakistan did make an attempt to go at Saeed but the court released him.

"Wisdom would have dictated that they should have appealed in a higher court of law.  But let us wait for the unfolding of the events further," he said, adding that one would have to await the outcome of the crucial meeting of the prime ministers.

The Singh-Gilani meeting comes following the discussions that Dr Singh had with President Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinberg in Russia last month when a stern message was given to Pakistan that it will have to stop terror emanating from its soil directed against India.

On Pakistani investigations into the Mumbai attack, Bashir said these were not not primarily the domain of foreign ministries but were making it possible for the relevant people to communicate with each other.

"And I think it goes to the credit of both sides that we have been able to communicate all the different aspects of those investigations," he said.

Bashir said his talks with Menon were good, open and frank and covered all issues. "It was more than terror. We talked about all issues. We talked about bilateral relations. We want to have a broad-based engagement. We want to turn the corner in our relationship," he said.

On concerns in India about the Saeed issue, Bashir said this was also touched upon but it was important to understand that what they were doing to beyond certain specific things.

"The stakes are too high just to link them to one or the other issue.  I think we are very clear on a lot of matters.  Of course, we do understand the Indian position but that is centred on the issue on Mumbai and post-Mumbai. We want to get past that," he said.

He would not like to comment on whether Saeed should be arrested this was a matter of subjudice. The two foreign secretaries are to meet late tonight to prepare further ground for the meeting of the prime ministers. Sources said there is a possibility of a joint statement or a media interaction by Singh and Gilani after their meeting.

Gilani had on Tuesday said he would hold talks with Singh with an open mind as he believed that any pause in bilateral dialogue would benefit terrorists.

V Mohan Narayan in Sharm el-Sheikh
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