India, Pakistan PMs begin New York meeting

Associated Press
India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives at the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, to meet with President Barack Obama. President Obama is hosting Singh for talks on trade and security in a fragile region, offering a chance to inject new life into the partnership amid concerns that relations have stagnated. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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NEW YORK (AP) — The prime ministers of India and Pakistan met Sunday in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, a fresh effort to improve strained relations but hindered by an uptick in violence in disputed Kashmir.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif shook hands and exchanged small talk before journalists were hustled out of the meeting room at a hotel. It is their first face-to-face meeting since Sharif was elected in May.

Sharif has called the meeting a chance for a "new beginning" in relations between South Asia's nuclear rivals. Singh has reciprocated the goodwill but downplayed expectations. He says relations can't improve until Pakistan stops militants from launching attacks in India.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars, and relations have been strained since the 2008 Mumbai attacks blamed on Pakistan-based militants killed 164 people in India's commercial hub.

Little concrete is likely to come out of Sunday's talks, but the need for improved ties has rarely been greater.

Hindu-dominated India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan have been enemies since Britain granted independence and carved up the subcontinent in 1947. But the impending U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, where India and Pakistan have competing interests, adds new uncertainty to a region increasingly threatened by Islamic militancy.

Sharif, who has served before as Pakistan's prime minister but was unseated in a 1999 coup, is contending with an explosion in militant violence inside Pakistan itself. In the latest attack, a car bomb exploded on a crowded street in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday killing 37 people. Three attacks in the troubled city of Peshawar in the past week have now killed 130 people.

He wants to improve relations with India and boost trade to help Pakistan's stricken economy. But he has an uphill task in persuading India that Pakistan and its security services are willing and able to stop attacks on India.

Speaking at the U.N. on Saturday, Singh said India was committed to resolving differences with Pakistan, including over Kashmir, which is claimed by both countries and divided between them. But he said for progress to be made, Pakistani territory can't be used for terrorism against India, and that "the terrorist machinery that draws its sustenance from Pakistan be shut down."

Leaders of India and Pakistan last met a year ago. Pakistan's then-President Asif Ali Zardari met Singh during a visit to India in April 2012. He was the first Pakistani head of state to visit the country in seven years. The two also met in August 2012 on the sidelines of a summit in Iran.

But since then, the renewed spate of violence has threatened a decade-long cease-fire on the Kashmir frontier. On Thursday, twin attacks by suspected separatist rebels on Indian security forces killed 13 people in the Indian-held portion of the Himalayan region — an attack that the top elected official there said was aimed at derailing the meeting of Sharif and Singh in New York.

Singh is expected to step down after elections in India next spring, but his party will not want to be seen as soft on Pakistan when attacks in Kashmir are increasing.

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