New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday raised the issue of Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) founder who India believes masterminded the 2008 Mumbai attack, in his 40-minute talks with visiting Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari here on Sunday. Dr Singh told Zardari that it was imperative that perpetrators of the 26/11 terror strike be brought to justice.
During the closed-door talks held at PM’s official residence - 7, Race Course Road - Dr Singh linked the progress in bilateral ties to Pakistan with taking action against Hafiz Saeed and others responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks, adding that this was important for normalisation of relations between the two neighbours.
"Taking up the issue of terrorism, the Prime Minister told Zardari that it was imperative that perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack be brought to justice and prevent activities aimed against India from Pakistani soil. He also discussed the activities of Hafiz Saeed," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters.
"The problem of terrorism, which is a major issue, is the one by which the Indian people will judge progress in bilateral relationship," Mathai quoted Singh as having told Zardari.
The issue would be further discussed during the proposed Home Secretary-level talks between the two countries shortly, he added.
The US recently announced a bounty of USD 10 million for the arrest and conviction of Saeed.
Asking Pakistan to take action against Saeed, the Indian Home Ministry has provided proof of the LeT chief`s involvement in the planning and execution of the terror attack to the Pakistani authorities, but Saeed continues to roam freely delivering hate speeches against India.
Responding to India`s concerns, Zardari said that Pakistan is as much a victim of terrorism as India and said that there "were some legal issues" on the Pakistani side.
According to the Foreign Secretary, Manmohan Singh and Zardari met for around 40 minutes before lunch and held a "constructive and friendly" dialogue in which they discussed a wide gamut of bilateral, regional and global issues. The duo agreed to continue with step-by-step approach in addressing issues like Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek among other matters.
Improving trade relations between India and Pakistan was touched upon, said Mathai, adding the Commerce Ministers of the two countries had already discussed the issue in detail earlier.
"The Prime Minister appreciated that Pakistan has moved ahead on bilateral trade," said Mathai.
In a sign of paradigm shift, Zardari invoked the "India-China" model for bilateral ties, which entails focusing on scaling up trade while resolving more complex outstanding issues like Kashmir in a step-by-step incremental fashion.
Dr Singh acknowledged that Pakistan was moving forward on trade issues - a reference to Islamabad`s movement in the direction of granting New Delhi the Most Favoured Nation status - as both leaders agreed to tap economic potential for trade and investment and broaden economic agenda between the two countries.
Ways to improve people-to-people contact between the two neighbours was also discussed, and it was decided that the liberal visa regime agreed upon in 2011 would be debated during the forthcoming meeting of the respective Home Secretaries, Mathai said.
‘Singh to visit Pak’
Manmohan Singh has also agreed to visit Pakistan at an appropriate time upon President Zardari`s request.
"President Zardari has also invited me to visit Pakistan … I would be very happy to visit Pakistan on a mutually convenient date," said Dr Singh, who was born in the village in Gah in Pakistani Punjab.
If the visit takes place, it will be the first by an Indian prime minister to Pakistan in the last eight years. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the last Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan in 2004.
"The dates for the Prime Minister`s visit will be worked out after the substantive preparations for it have been made," said Mathai.
He said the two leaders noted that there has been steady progress in the India-Pakistan dialogue, which was restarted in 2011 after a breakdown in 2008 in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.
Earlier, in his statement to the press, Singh said, "President Zardari and I had a very constructive and friendly exchange of views on all bilateral issues which affect the relation between India and Pakistan.”
"President Zardari is on a private visit and I have taken advantage of this visit to discuss with him all bilateral issues and I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit. President Zardari has also invited me to visit Pakistan. I would be very happy to visit Pakistan on a mutually convenient date."
He said the relations between India and Pakistan should become normal. "That`s our common desire. We have number of issues and we are willing to find practical and pragmatic solutions to all those issues and that`s the message President Zardari and I wish to convey," he said.
Greeting the Indian people with a "Salaam Walaykum," a beaming Zardari stressed that India and Pakistan are neighbours and "we will like to have better relations with India".
“We spoke on all topics that we could have spoken about and hope to meet on Pakistan soil very soon," he said.
Asked about what qualitative change has been there for Singh to change his mind on visiting Pakistan, a diplomatic source said, "I won`t say there has been qualitative difference.... Formula used was step-by-step approach and we need to take dialogue forward. And the expectation is that dialogue process will make the kind of progress which is solid and enough to make it a very substantive visit for the Prime Minister."
Singh has always maintained that he will visit Pakistan only if there was some "substantive" progress in ties.
Sources said the issue of ailing Pakistani microbiologist Khaleel Chishti, lodged in Rajasthan jail, also figured during the lunch when Home Minister P Chidambaram was inquired about him.
Chidambaram is understood to have said that the Chishti case was before the court which was yet to take a view on the matter.
Singh played host to Zardari and his son Bilawal along with few other members of 40-strong entourage at his Race Course Road residence.
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Rahul Gandhi, BJP leaders LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik were among the 20 guests at the lunch.
Zardari later visited Ajmer to offer prayers at the renowned 13th century shrine of sufi saint Khwaja Moninuddin Chisti, before heading back to Pakistan.
(With Agencies’ inputs)