Sensitive topics off table during Zardari's visit to India

By AFP
Published: April 6, 2012

Retired Indian diplomat says there will be talks, Indian premier to raise issues such as concerns over terrorism. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

NEW DELHI: President Asif Ali Zardari will on Sunday become the first Pakistani head of state since 2005 to visit arch-rival India when he makes a trip that includes lunch with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

During what officials from both sides describe as a “private” one-day visit, Zardari will be the guest of the Indian premier in New Delhi before heading to Ajmer Sharif to offer prayers.

The trip, which was confirmed this week after leaks in the press, has received a cautious welcome from analysts who say it reflects some improvement in ties since the 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistan-based militants.

But they warned little progress could be expected on sensitive topics such as the disputed region of Kashmir and Pakistani militant activity against India that make the cross-border relationship one of the most dangerous in the world.

“Zardari expressed a desire to visit India primarily for a pilgrimage, and it is only correct that we welcome him to the capital,” G Parthasarathy, a retired Indian diplomat and former high commissioner to Pakistan, told AFP.

“There will be talks and I expect the prime minister to raise issues such as our concerns over terrorism. Relations were rock bottom in 2008 so they have improved.”

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947 and also carried out tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998.

The two countries came to the brink of conflict most recently in 2001, and tensions again peaked after the Mumbai attacks during which 166 people died in carnage blamed on Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Zardari’s visit comes shortly after the United States issued a $10 million bounty for Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of LeT who lives openly in Pakistan.

A United States official praised the planned rare talks between India and Pakistan, describing them as a “win-win situation” for the US and said it did not want the bounty “to impact” on Zardari’s visit.

“We’re not playing some sort of strategic game here,” State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said. “We’re just trying to prosecute this individual.”

Brahma Chellaney, an analyst at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, said of the visit: “This is a largely symbolic occasion and contentious subjects will be avoided.”

Chellaney said Zardari “wielded little real power in the country.”

“You can’t have substantive talks with someone who doesn’t run anything,” he told AFP.

Trade is one area of discussion that the two leaders may find fruitful as Pakistan moves to normalise trade ties by phasing out major restrictions on Indian imports by the end of the year.

In 1996, India granted Pakistan “most preferred nation” trading status, while Pakistan last year agreed in principle to match the move.

Sources in Islamabad said that among the 40 members of Zardari’s family and staff expected to accompany him on the trip will be Interior Minister Rehman Malik, potentially undermining its “private” status.

The last Pakistan president to visit India was Pervez Musharraf, who also offered prayers at the shrine of sufi saint Moinudin Chishti in Ajmer, 350 miles (220 miles) southwest of Delhi.

The shrine is one of South Asia’s most popular pilgrimage sites, attracting throngs of devotees from across the globe.

“Zardari could just go to Ajmer and back home, so meeting Singh makes it significant even though it’s not official,” Pakistani political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.

“This means that relations are in a better state, otherwise the prime minister could ignore the visit.”

A full peace dialogue between India and Pakistan – suspended by India after the 2008 Mumbai – was resumed in February 2011.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Baby ka Husband
    Apr 6, 2012 - 10:40AM

    PM lied to the NA today by saying that nothing will be discussed by Prez with PM Singh. When leaders meet they don’t discuss about WAGs or how good the English is of their sons??? They talk about serious issues like Terrorism, US Bounty on Hafizjee etc., Gilani and Zardari have always lied to the nation and to the SC whenever their cases come up. Recommend

  • munna
    Apr 6, 2012 - 10:44AM

    According to Najam Sethi both sides have made a breakthrough.

    Pakistan needs India’s vast economic market. And India needs a sane rational neighbour that also decides to shut down terror camps in Azad Kashmir.

    Recommend

  • rp
    Apr 6, 2012 - 11:19AM

    who is Hafiz dictating Zardari to cancel India visit…Pakistan should arrest this rogue who was directly involved in 26/11

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  • raw is war
    Apr 6, 2012 - 11:22AM

    pleasure trip?

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  • Atheist, India
    Apr 6, 2012 - 11:48AM

    @munna
    Yes i saw Najam’s program on youtube. Congrats for such a great peace effort.

    Recommend

  • Hadi Ansari
    Apr 6, 2012 - 12:24PM

    Over lunch they will discuss how the young mothers of both country teach Englsh to their
    kids.Something like this…..
    A for Akmal
    B for ball
    C for catch
    D for drop

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  • Pravin
    Apr 6, 2012 - 12:59PM

    There is definite change of gesture from Pakistan when Balochistan problem started boiling. I think they see more trouble there than what meets the eye. They do not want India to mingle into it. You can see that lots of steps are being taken by Pakistan in short span of time like MFN status to India, shifting to negative list, TAPI pipeline discussions, steps to buy electricity from India, and this surprise visit by Zardari. You can also see that rhetoric on Kashmir has also lessened in past few months.
    Of course, these steps are to be welcomed but I doubt whether the gesture would remain so when they stabilize the situation in Balochistan.

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  • A2Z
    Apr 6, 2012 - 2:26PM

    A private visit by using tax payers money…:-(

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  • Truth Teller
    Apr 6, 2012 - 2:35PM

    Till Pak Army is not on board there can never be normal relations between two countries. PK Army is the biggest hurdle!

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  • Farhan
    Apr 6, 2012 - 3:10PM

    President Zardari, great decision to visit India and meet PM Manmohan Singh. Get 5000MW electricity with you to shut the mouth of war-mongers in your country.

    The hardliners of both sides who do not want to see the people of both countries come closer.

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  • Its (still) Econonmy Stupid
    Apr 6, 2012 - 4:09PM

    India has more Muslim monuments and shrine than Pakistan. Zardari visit will boost tourism to Ajmer. Muslims living in India have advantage over Pakistani community that they can visit these shrine anytime by car, bus, train or air.

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  • Apr 6, 2012 - 4:20PM

    @Hadi Ansari:
    Sorry Mr Ansari. The Indian mothers donot teach what you preach! Sorry! Please do some soul searching and introspection. Your thinking has got to change!

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  • ASHOK
    Apr 6, 2012 - 4:21PM

    @Baby ka Husband:

    Terrorism is “nothing” for Pakistan. They will surely discuss nothing in this sense.

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  • Hadi Ansari
    Apr 6, 2012 - 7:26PM

    @Dr Priyanka:
    Glad that u preach high moral value.That’s how it should be.What would you say about 20000crore fodder and 30000 crore army scandals?Oh I forgot about latest G3 or G4 involving loss of billions of USD.If you say that these are political victimisation that would mean that Anna Hazare is making unfounded allegations.High regards madam.

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  • Umair
    Apr 7, 2012 - 1:04PM

    @Truth Teller: How can you say Pakistan Army is the biggest Hurdle? They are the one who is saving us..dude..you must be Indian…

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