UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the United Nations on Saturday that neighboring Pakistan is the “epicenter of terrorism in our region,” setting the stage for a tense meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
Singh and Sharif are set to meet on Sunday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, amid heightened tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors over Kashmir sparked by series of fatal clashes on their de facto Himalayan border.
“State-sponsored cross-border terrorism is of particular concern to India, also on account of the fact that the epicenter of terrorism in our region is located in our neighborhood in Pakistan,” Singh said in his address to the annual assembly.
Sharif made plain in his U.N. speech on Friday that he wanted “to make a new beginning” with India, saying the two countries could “prosper together” to benefit the entire South Asian region instead of wasting resources in their arms race.
“We stand ready to re-engage with India in a substantive and purposeful dialogue,” Sharif told the assembly. He also urged the United Nations to “remain attentive” to the Kashmir issue.
Analysts expect Sunday’s meeting will address a series of fatal clashes along the so-called Line of Control dividing the Himalayan region between India and Pakistan, which followed a pact by the two nations to resume stalled talks to strengthen ties.
The clashes have killed at least eight soldiers from both countries in less than two months. The South Asia Terrorism Portal, which tracks the violence, says this year’s toll is 44 members of the security forces, up from 17 for all of last year.
While the talks could ease tension between the two nuclear powers, Singh’s scope to maneuver on concessions to Pakistan is limited, as India heads for elections that must be held by May.
Singh said India wanted to resolve all problems with Pakistan, including the Kashmir dispute, through dialogue.
“However, for progress to be made, it is imperative that the territory of Pakistan and the areas under its control are not utilized for aiding and abetting terrorism directed against India,” he said.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since becoming independent from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. 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.
Singh said Pakistan must have “a clear understanding of the fact Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and that there can never, ever, be a compromise with the unity and territorial integrity of India.”
Reporting by Paul Eckert; editing by Christopher Wilson