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India's Modi accepts invite for first Pakistan visit

10 july 2015, 15:32
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. ©Reuters
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. ©Reuters

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepted an invitation Friday from his counterpart Nawaz Sharif to attend a regional summit in Islamabad next year in what would be his first visit to Pakistan.

After around an hour of talks between the two leaders in Russia, their governments issued a joint statement agreeing they had "a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development" between the two nuclear armed neighbours.

The statement included joint, albeit vague, commitments on some of the most contentious issues between them, including speeding up efforts to bring those behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks to justice.

While Sharif did attend Modi's inauguration in May last year, relations soon cooled amid flare-ups in violence along the border in Kashmir, the Himalayan region which is claimed by both countries.

Indian officials had previously refused to confirm Modi's participation at the next summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which is being held in the Pakistani capital.

But the statement said Sharif had used their talks in Russia as an opportunity to reiterate an earlier request for Modi to attend the summit, adding that "Prime Minister Modi accepted that invitation".

It will be the first time that Modi -- who has a reputation as a hardline nationalist -- has travelled to Pakistan since coming to power.

The two countries have fought three wars since the partition of the sub-continent in the wake of independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

Since 1989 several Kashmiri rebel groups have waged campaigns against the hundreds of thousands of Indian forces deployed in the Himalayan region, hoping to achieve independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan.

While the situation has been much calmer since a 2003 truce, India accused Pakistan of killing one of its border guards on Thursday night in firing across the de-facto Kashmir border known as the Line of Control.

 Joint condemnation of terrorism 

In the statement, it was agreed that officials responsible for security on both sides of the border would meet soon, as would their respective national security advisors to "discuss all issues connected to terrorism".

"Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia," said the statement, read out by the two countries' foreign secretaries. 

India has long argued Pakistan shelters or sponsors militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is accused of being behind an attack on the financial capital Mumbai that left 166 people dead in November 2008.

Modi's government was furious in April when Pakistani authorities freed the alleged mastermind of the attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, on bail.

India has seethed at Pakistan's failure either to hand over or prosecute those accused of planning and organising the attacks.

Pakistan has in turn said that India failed to give it crucial evidence, such as recordings between the attackers and their handlers.

While it did not go into details, the statement said that "both sides agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples".

Modi and Sharif met while attending a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which is being held in the Russian city of Ufa.

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