NEW DELHI: India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif Tuesday to crack down on militant groups while stressing his desire for closer economic ties, the Foreign Ministry said.
Modi “underlined our concerns related to terrorism” to Sharif during landmark talks in New Delhi on the first day of his term in office, Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said.
“We want peaceful and friendly relations with Pakistan. However, for such relations to proceed, it is important that terror and violence are brought to an end,” Singh told reporters after the meeting.
She added that Modi conveyed the message that Islamabad must “abide by its commitment to prevent its territory and territory it controls being used to stage terror attacks on India.”
Sharif, a pro-business industrialist, said he saw the talks as a “historic opportunity” to improve ties between the South Asian countries, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947.
“We should rid the region of instability and insecurity that has plagued us for decades. Consequently, it was important for us to work together for peace, progress and prosperity,” he told reporters.
But he said that he had also told the new prime minister that engaging in “accusations and counteraccusations would be counterproductive.”
Modi held bilateral meetings with Sharif and other regional leaders who attended his swearing-in ceremony Monday, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse.
In an unprecedented move, Modi invited Sharif and the other leaders to his inauguration, signaling his intention to be a strong regional leader after his right-wing party’s landslide general election victory.
It gives him a powerful mandate to reach out to Pakistan to try to mend strained relations, which completely broke down after attacks in Mumbai in 2008 by Pakistani militants that killed 166 people.
Although ties have improved slightly, tensions remain amid mutual distrust and regular skirmishes along their disputed Kashmir border.
During Tuesday’s talks, Modi also underlined his desire to improve commercial ties, Singh said.
“There was discussion on trade, and we noted that we were fully ready to fully normalize trade and economic relations. Both prime ministers expressed their interest in having this done as early as possible,” Singh said.
Trade between the two countries is presently around $2.5 billion, with Indian exports accounting for $1.75 billion.
In his other meetings, Modi called on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to speed up reconciliation with the island’s ethnic Tamil minority after a decades-long separatist war that left at least 100,000 people dead.
“Sri Lanka should expedite the process of national reconciliation in a manner that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for a life of equality and dignity in a united Sri Lanka,” Singh said of the meeting.
Modi also thanked Afghan President Hamid Karzai for his country’s help in repelling an attack last week on an Indian diplomatic mission in the west of his country.
The attack “only strengthened our resolve to work together for the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan, a sovereign Afghanistan, Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled,” Singh said.
Karzai blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba for Friday’s attack on the consulate in Herat, the latest of several assaults on Indian targets in Afghanistan.