First Day On Job, India’s Modi Talks Terrorism Wth Pakistan’s Sharif

Narendra Modi will be sworn in as India's 15th prime minister Monday in a ceremony to be attended by leaders of neighbouring countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan.Democratic Alliance EPA

By Sunrita Sen (DPA)

NEW DELHI —  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his first day in office Tuesday with a diplomatic bang, taking up the issue of terrorism with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and holding brief talks with a host of regional leaders.

Modi, whose Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power after winning a parliamentary majority in recent elections, urged Sharif to take action against terrorists located in Pakistan who were working against India and to speed up the trial of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack suspects, Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said.

India wants to normalize relations with Pakistan, but to proceed, terrorism and violence must stop, said Singh, who called the meeting constructive.

Modi and Sharif also discussed normalizing trade relations, Singh said.

Sharif said in a brief statement before he returned to Pakistan that the meeting was "a historic opportunity" to improve relations because both leaders had the clear mandate of their people.

"It is not the time for accusations and counter-accusations," Sharif said.

Relations between the two countries have been on a downswing since the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai by a Pakistan-based militant group, in which 166 people were killed.

Many people in Pakistan view Modi with suspicion because of deadly Hindu-Muslim riots in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 while he was chief minister there.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed and Modi's administration has been accused by human rights activists of doing little to control the riots.

However, the biggest advance in India-Pakistan relations was during the tenure of another BJP prime minister, Atal Behari Vajapayee.

Vajpayee and Sharif, in an earlier stint as Pakistani premier, had in 1999 initiated a dialogue to resolve all outstanding differences between the two countries, including those over disputed borders and the Kashmir region.

The dialogue broke down when Pakistani troops seized posts in the mountains of Kargil on the Indian side of the Kashmir region later the same year.

The disputed Kashmir region is divided into two parts, one administered by India and the other by Pakistan.

Sharif said he wanted to pick up where he and Vajpayee had left off. He visited the ailing BJP leader at his home in New Delhi.

The two nuclear powers have had troubled relations since their independence from British rule in 1947 and have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir.

Modi's meetings with Sharif and other regional leaders came a day after he had invited the heads of Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Mauritius to his inauguration.

Modi and Afghan President Hamid Karzai discussed the recent attack on the Indian consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat and India's involvement in the economic development of Afghanistan and in providing military hardware as NATO forces withdraw.

In an interview with Headlines Today news channel, Karzai said that according to information from Western intelligence agencies, the Herat attack was carried out by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was also responsible for the Mumbai attack.

On his first day on the job, Modi kept a gruelling pace, which he is known for, and after his string of diplomatic meetings made a courtesy call on the outgoing prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and then held a cabinet meeting.

The government announced the portfolios Tuesday for 45 ministers, 23 of them with cabinet rank. India's new foreign minister is Sushma Swaraj, who accompanied Modi during the talks with Sharif.

Arun Jaitley, a former leader of the opposition in Parliament's upper house, has been given the finance and commerce portfolios as well as defence until a candidate is found for that ministry.

BJP president Rajnath Singh has been named home minister and will be second in command to Modi in the government.