Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq said today that talks with the new Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had improved the atmosphere between their two often hostile neighboring countries but that they produced no concrete steps toward normalization of relations.
"I am looking forward to a much better and more positive, fruitful and happy relationship between India and Pakistan in the future," Zia said. He added that Gandhi was "categorical in saying it was in the interests of both India and Pakistan that we should have good relations."
Zia said the issue of resuming talks about a nonaggression pact was not raised in his meeting today with Gandhi. However, he said he "felt there was enough understanding and desire for the talks to be resumed" once India gets over the sectarian violence that followed the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Zia made the remark in an airport news conference on his return from New Delhi, where he attended the cremation of Indira Gandhi and met her son and political heir, Rajiv.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Sahabzada Yaqub Khan said the meeting with the youthful new Indian leader had "defused tensions" between the two countries.
The tensions had arisen because of fears here that India would lash out against Pakistan in its grief and rage over the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two Sikh security guards. India has accused Pakistan of aiding members of the Sikh minority who have been agitating for autonomy in India's northwestern Punjab state.
At the same time, concerns reportedly have arisen in New Delhi that Pakistan would try to take advantage of India's current unrest to avenge defeats suffered in wars against India in 1965 and 1971.
Government officials here ridicule the idea that Pakistan has any aggressive intentions against its huge neighbor, which enjoys overwhelming military superiority. The officials argue that Zia has gone out of his way to reassure India following the assassination and visited New Delhi at some personal risk.
This was the first time a Pakistani head of state has attended a state funeral in India, said a government spokesman, "much less in the charged atmosphere of crowds on the rampage in Delhi itself."
Western diplomats also said they doubted that Pakistan would try to capitalize on the turmoil in India.
Government officials said the hope here is that the accession to power of Rajiv Gandhi, who represents a new generation that grew up after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, will help the two countries put decades of animosity behind them. The Pakistanis also hope that Gandhi will be more sympathetic to the West, particularly the United States, than his mother was.
Zia said he appealed to the new Indian prime minister to resolve the two countries' problems through direct personal contact and had invited him to visit Pakistan.
An Indian diplomat here said, however, that it would take more than expressions of good will to improve relations between the two countries. He said India wanted Pakistan to take solid steps to remove "irritants" in the relationship.
He said these included Pakistan's failure to try or extradite to India 14 Sikhs held here after they hijacked to Pakistan two domestic Indian flights, as well as alleged Pakistani arms smuggling to Sikhs in the Punjab and training of Sikh "terrorists" in Pakistan. Pakistani officials have denied any involvement in the alleged arms smuggling and training.