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India, Pakistan leaders say they want better ties but reach no concrete agreements

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the United Nations General Assembl
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the United Nations General Assembl

By Paul Eckert

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, agreed on Sunday to work to restore a cross-border ceasefire after a spate of shootings in order to improve strained ties, officials said.

Singh and Sharif met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, amid heightened tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors over the Kashmir region, sparked by series of fatal clashes on their de facto Himalayan border.

India emerged from the meeting of more than an hour calling the talks "useful" while Pakistan called the atmosphere "very positive."

They both expressed a desire to improve ties but agreed that "peace and tranquility across the LOC (Line of Control) is a precondition," Indian national security adviser Shivshankar Menon told reporters in New York.

"We need to address the issues that we face today and then we hope to move it forward," he said.

Pakistan's Secretary for Foreign Affairs Jalil Abbas Jilani told reporters the New York meeting set the stage for future cooperation even though they did not reach specific agreements.

"The most significant aspect of the meeting was that the leaders expressed their commitment to ... better relations between the two countries," he told reporters at a separate New York briefing.

"Both sides wish to see a better India-Pakistan relationship than we have today," said Menon.

A series of fatal clashes along the so-called Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan have killed at least eight soldiers from both countries in less than two months. The South Asia Terrorism Portal, a website that tracks the violence, says this year's toll is 44 members of the security forces, up from 17 for all of last year.

In their speeches to the U.N. General Assembly, both leaders said they wanted to improve relations between their countries, which have fought three wars since becoming independent from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

But Singh told the assembly on Saturday that neighboring Pakistan is the "epicenter of terrorism in our region," and in talks with Sharif he urged Pakistan to address Indian complaints that Pakistan is the source of cross-border attacks, Menon said.

India has long accused Pakistan of supporting the militants fighting Indian rule in an insurgency in its part of Muslim-majority Kashmir since 1989. Pakistan denies this.

"Terrorism is as much a concern of Pakistan as it is of India," Pakistan's Jalil said.

The two prime ministers agreed to instruct military officials to work together to develop a mechanism to stop ceasefire violations, Menom and Jalil said.

Asked whether he thought Pakistan can bring calm to the frontier in Kashmir, Menom said: "The only proof will be in the months to come."

The two leaders accepted invitations to visit each other's countries, but no dates were set, Menon added.

(Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Eric Beech and Philip Barbara)

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