New Delhi: Linking the progress in bilateral ties to Pakistan taking action against Hafiz Saeed and others responsible for Mumbai terror attacks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday plainly told President Asif Ali Zardari that this was important for normalisation of relations between the two neighbours.

 

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Zardari, who made a stopover in the capital for little over two hours on his way to pilgrimage to Ajmer, heard from Singh a reiteration of India's commitment to engage with Pakistan but was left in no doubt that action on terrorism was an essential step towards that.

Singh brought up the issue of terrorism "affront" and activities of LeT founder Hafiz Saeed, mastermind of 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai, on whom the US announced a USD 10 million bounty although Pakistani leader had said in Lahore on Saturday that he did not expect Singh "will make me sit (and discuss only) this issue."

"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 here.

"The problem of terrorism which is a major issue by which the Indian people will judge progress in bilateral relationship," Mathai quoted Singh as having told Zardari.

The 40-minute one-on-one meeting between the two leaders covered a wide gamut of bilateral, regional and global issues and in brief comments to the media, Singh and Zardari termed their talks as "constructive" and "fruitful" where they agreed to continue with step-by-step approach in addressing issues like Kashmir, Siachin and Sir Creek among other matters.

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 S M Krishna, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Rahul Gandhi, BJP leaders L K Advani and Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik were among the 20 guests at the lunch. Asked about Zardari's response to the Prime Minister's remarks on Saeed, Mathai said the Pakistan President felt that further discussion was required and since the home secretaries of the two countries will be meeting shortly, the issue will be taken up that time.

According to diplomatic sources, the issue of terrorism was discussed "upfront" by the Prime Minister, who mentioned that he wanted normal relations between India and Pakistan and to be able to move in that direction, action regarding terrorism, specifically bringing the perpetrators of Mumbai attacks to justice, is one of the expectation.

"This can be kept in mind... to make progress in relationship," sources quoted Singh as having told Zardari.

Improving trade relations between India and Pakistan was touched upon, Mathai said, adding the commerce ministers of the two countries had already discussed the issue in detail earlier and a way forward has been decided.

"The Prime Minister appreciated that Pakistan has moved ahead on bilateral trade," the Foreign Secretary said.

Earlier, in his statement to 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 relation 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.

Describing the talks "fruitful", Zardari said "We would 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."

Mathai said Singh's visit to Pakistan will be "worked out after the substantive preparations for it have been made."

(Agencies)