Addu Atoll (Maldives), Nov 10 (IANS) Seeking to put past acrimony behind, India and Pakistan Thursday talked about writing 'a new chapter' in their tense ties, with Islamabad assuring New Delhi that the terrorists behind the Mumbai carnage will be brought to justice soon.
Marking a forward movement in their ties that have languished since 26/11 attacks nearly three years ago, the two sided agreed to push a host of initiatives, including the revival of the joint commission, a preferential trade agreement and liberal visa regime.
India conveyed to Pakistan the imperative need to punish perpetrators of 26/11 carnage, that dipped ties between the neighbours, and underlined that terror should not be allowed to spoil improving relations between them.
Pakistan on its part promised to conclude the trial of the Mumbai terror accused in its custody and declared that Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving 26/11 terrorist, should be hanged.
In a sign of the new spirit of mutual accommodation and positive progress in dialogue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani vowed to open a new chapter in ties and hoped the next round of talks will be 'more productive and constructive.'
Meeting on the sidelines of the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit here, the two leaders held delegation-level talks for around half an hour in a seaside beach cottage at the idyllic Shangri La resort hotel and followed it up with nearly 45 minutes of one-on-one talks.
Coming out after their meeting, the two smiled and made brief statements before the media in which they virtually echoed each other in their desire to start a new phase in relations.
Describing Gilani as 'man of peace,' Manmohan Singh said that the dialogue process, which the two countries resumed early this year, have yielded positive results, but stressed that 'more needs to be done.
'We will review the dialogue with the expectation that all the issues which have bedevilled the relations will be discussed with all the sincerity the two sides can bring to the table,' Manmohan Singh said. 'We have wasted a lot of time in acrimonious debate in the past. The time has come to write a new chapter in relations between India and Pakistan,' he said.
He said the next round of talks 'should be far more productive and result-oriented and bring the two countries closer to each other.'
Gilani, too, struck an upbeat note. 'We had a good meeting. I hope the next round of talks will be more constructive and open a new chapter in relations between the two countries.'
'We openly discussed all issues, including core issues related to water, terror, Sir Creek and Siachen,' Gilani said.
Briefing reporters after the talks, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai stressed that the talks signaled an end to the period of 'accusations and counter-accusations' and stressed on key initiatives that emerged from the talks.
'The joint commission, which have not met since 2005, will be revived,' he said.
Building on positive momentum generated by Pakistan granting India Most Favoured Nation status, Mathai said the two countries are now planning to move towards a preferential trade agreement that is set to give a substantial boost to trade between the two countries.
The liberalized visa regime should be signed at the earliest, Mathai said, adding that the two sides also decided to fast-track implementation of cross-border trade and confidence-building measures that were finalized during talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries in July.
The feel-good factor in bilateral relations was more than visible, but with justice still elusive for 26/11 victims nearly three years after the carnage that froze their peace process, India made it clear that relations can thrive only in a atmosphere free from terror and enmity.
'Terrorism is a perennial concern. We have an obligation to ensure that it does not spoil relations between the two countries,' Mathai told reporters about the message Manmohan conveyed to Gilani during their talks.
Manmohan Singh told Gilani that 'it is imperative to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 attacks to justice', said Mathai.
The Pakistani side promised to bring the trial of the seven terrorists who perpetrated Mumbai terror to conclusion and pointed that the judicial commission which will be visiting India soon will positively impact the judicial process of bringing 26/11 perpetrators to justice. In a surprisingly blunt assertion, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared that Ajmal Kasab is a non-state actor, a convicted terrorist and should be sent to the gallows.
'Kasab is a terrorist, a non-state actor who should go to gallows and his accomplices too. So should perpetrators of the Samjhauta Express blast,' said Malik. Mathai said that India will respond soon on the dates of the proposed visit of the judicial commission.
The commission is expected to record the statements of Mumbai Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate R.V. Sawant Waghule and investigating officer Ramesh Mahale, who had recorded the confessional statement of Kasab, convicted of the terror attack.
(Manish Chand can be contacted at [email protected])