Sharif (second left) meets Singh on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the New York Palace hotel yesterday.
NEW YORK CITY: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday held his first talks with his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh, who has demanded Islamabad must crack down on Islamic extremists for any improvement in ties.
Sharif, who has advocated an end to tensions with India since he came to power in May elections, met Singh at a New York hotel on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
In front of flags of the two nations, both shook hands and held a brief meeting before entering closed-door talks with aides.
Sharif, in a speech to the UN General Assembly on Friday, called for a “new beginning” with India and denounced the developing nations’ years of intense military development as a waste of resources.
But Singh, while welcoming Sharif’s overtures, said the proof of good intentions will be whether Pakistan curbs Islamic extremists who have attacked India.
On Thursday, militants raided an army base on the Indian side of divided Kashmir, killing 10 people in an attack seen as an attempt to derail peace efforts.
Singh said on Saturday that Pakistan, where virulently anti-Indian groups operate virtually in the open, must no longer be “the epicentre of terrorism” in South Asia.
“For progress to be made, it is imperative that the territory of Pakistan and the areas under its control are not utilised for aiding or abetting terrorism,” Singh said from the UN podium. “It is equally important that the terrorist machinery that draws its sustenance from Pakistan be shut down.”
He resisted domestic pressure for military retaliation after Pakistan-linked militants stormed an iconic hotel in Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people and pressed Pakistan to prosecute the hardline group Lashkar-e-Taiba and said he had been disappointed by Islamabad’s response.
Singh, 81, was born in Pakistan before Partition in 1947.
He met last August Pakistan’s then president, Asif Ali Zardari, on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran.
Sharif, who earlier in his career maintained relations with Islamist groups, has tried to reassure India as he puts priority on reviving Pakistan’s economy.
After his election, Pakistan freed nearly 340 Indian fishermen in a goodwill gesture and Sharif called for greater economic cooperation.
Sharif said he was looking for a “substantive and purposeful dialogue” with Singh to offer a chance for “a new beginning” with India.
“Our two countries have wasted massive resources in an arms race. We could have used those resources for the economic well-being of our people.”
Sharif also reiterated Pakistan’s calls for greater international attention on Kashmir, the trigger for two nations’ three full-fledged wars. Singh, while voicing readiness to talk through problems on Kashmir, vowed that Indian sovereignty over the region was not open for discussion.