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Amid forward movement, Manmohan, Gilani to discuss 'all issues'

Saturday November 05, 2011 10:11:46 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: Taking note of "forward movement" in bilateral ties, India Saturday said all issues will be discussed when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in the Maldives next week.

New Delhi, however, downplayed the Pakistan prime minister's latest statement that seemed to indicate a hedging on the MFN status to India after Islamabad announced it three days ago, saying it hoped the MFN will not take very long to become operational.

Manmohan Singh will be meeting all the South Asian leaders on the sidelines of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the Maldives, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters.

Talks between Manmohan Singh and Gilani are expected to be held on Friday (Nov 11) morning at the picturesque Addu Atoll in the Maldives, well-placed sources said.

Manmohan Singh leaves Wednesday on a four-day visit to the Maldives to participate in the 17th SAARC summit where South Asian leaders will sign four pacts that will entail the creation of a seed bank to boost agricultural productivity and a rapid action force to deal with natural disasters like cyclone and quakes.

Shedding post-26/11 bitterness, India has taken note of some positive gestures on part of Pakistan that seem to suggest a qualitative change in atmospherics in bilateral ties.

"With Pakistan, there have been some positive indicators in the last few weeks," Mathai said. Alluding to Pakistan's prompt action in releasing an Indian helicopter and crew within hours after it strayed into the Pakistani territory last month and the granting of the Most Favoured Nation status to India, Mathai stressed these are "indications of forward movement" in bilateral relations.

"All aspects of bilateral relations will be discussed when the two prime ministers meet," Mathai said when asked about the agenda for the meeting between Manmohan Singh and Gilani next week.

"We have been consistent in seeking a relationship which is stable, normal, in which minor incidents should not derail the overall trend towards a more cooperative and constructive relationship between us as neighbours," he said.

He also welcomed Pakistan's decision to send a judicial commission to interview witnessed connected with the 26/11 terror probe.

The two leaders are expected to discuss a swathe of bilateral issues, including Kashmir and terrorism, and focus on confidence-building measures to enhance people-to-people contacts.

This will be the first meeting between the leaders of India and Pakistan since they last met in Thimphu last year on the margins of the SAARC summit and the first since the two countries resumed their stalled peace process early this year.

New Delhi is also hoping that there will be greater clarity on the MFN issue when Manmohan Singh meets Gilani.

"There is no time frame. We expect it will not take very long (to become operational)," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters here.

Mathai stressed that according to the information available through the Pakistan government, the Pakistan Cabinet has approved the process of normalization of trade relations of, which MFN is a part.

India had given Pakistan MFN status way back in 1996.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday welcomed it. "Better late than never. I welcome it," Manmohan Singh had said.

However, since Islamabad's announcement there has been a spate of conflicting statements over the MFN to India, which is being opposed by some influential right-wing sections in Pakistan which contend that trade relations with India should not be normalized till the Kashmir issue is resolved.

On Friday night, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani complicated the issue. "The Cabinet has only given its approval in principle to move forward on the issue (of MFN) and permitted the Ministry of Commerce, which is actively engaged in trade talks with New Delhi, to negotiate with it trade-related issues," Gilani told reporters in Lahore.

"We will give it the go-ahead if the situation is quite favorable and in the national interest. Otherwise, proceedings on it would be withheld," Gilani said, according to some reports in Pakistani media.






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