What to expect of Zardari’s India visit

Published: April 7, 2012

The writer is a senior journalist and host of Geo TV’s Capital Talk

President Asif Ali Zardari still remembers his first meeting with Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh that took place in 2008. Within a few days of assuming the presidency on September 9, 2008, Mr Zardari travelled to New York to address the UN General Assembly and he met Dr Singh on its sidelines. But the Indian prime minister quite literally shocked the Pakistani president by politely asking in their first ever meeting: “Mr President, is it possible for you to extradite Dawood Ibrahim to India?” The president replied then, coolly: “My dear sir, I have just replaced a military dictator who ruled Pakistan for eight long years. Let’s begin a new relationship by discussing small issues first, like Siachen, Kori Creek and water before taking up bigger issues.” President Zardari shared the memories of his first meeting with Dr Manmohan Singh recently with some of his friends, adding that he had returned to Pakistan contentedly, carrying new hopes. Within a few days of that meeting, the president hosted a dinner for members of parliament at the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad [on September 20, 2008]. However, at the last minute, he shifted the venue of the dinner to the prime minister’s house, perhaps smelling a conspiracy. A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden truck into the hotel building that evening, killing over 50 people.

Shortly after the Marriott bombing, then director-general of the ISI Lt-Gen. Nadeem Taj was replaced with Lt-Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha. And two months later, the Mumbai attacks happened. The only surviving attacker who was captured alive — Ajmal Kasab — eventually turned out to be a Pakistani national who was allegedly dispatched by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) led by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Subsequently, the small goodwill created by the Pakistani president and the Indian prime minister in their first meeting had gone with the wind. Zardari and Singh never had a chance to see each other after that.

The two leaders are meeting again after a long break today, in New Delhi. President Zardari is visiting India to pay his respects at the dargah of the great Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. But the media on both sides of the border, as well as some politicians, are perhaps expecting too much. And the main reason for this is the scheduled lunch between Manmohan Singh and Asif Zardari. The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly has criticised the president’s visit as have several religious parties — the latter saying that it follows the recent bounty announcement by America for Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Hindu fundamentalist leader Bal Thackeray also has warned the president from coming to Ajmer, reminding him that former dictator Pervez Musharraf lost power after he visited it.

The president has told his close aides that his Ajmer trip (he went there in April 2005 with Benazir Bhutto after his release from prison) was purely a private visit. But when the Indian prime minister came to know of it, he invited him for a lunch out of courtesy. The president accepted the invitation and added that he was ready to discuss anything with the Indian premier.

As for the bounty announcement, which comes a few days before today’s visit, the timing of the US action may have something to do with it wanting to pressure Islamabad — through India — to ensure restoration of the suspended Nato supply route. Also, there is now increasing pressure building up within India demanding that Dr Singh raise the issue of Hafiz Saeed with President Zardari during today’s lunch. One would expect President Zardari to tell Dr Singh that twice the government proceeded against Mr Saeed in the courts but failed, and that the courts are giving a tough time to not only his prime minister but also to the powerful intelligence agencies of the country and that if credible evidence is given and passed on to the courts, Hafiz Saeed will not be spared. President Zardari has been advised by the Foreign Office that he can respond by suggesting that India also hold the trial of former military Intelligence officer Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit who has been arrested for involvement in the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express.

Perhaps, President Zardari can ask Dr Singh to send his cricket team to Pakistan in the coming winter so that both the leaders can watch the match together in a Pakistan stadium. Yes, President Zardari is, at the very least, going to invite Prime Minister Singh to come to Pakistan to watch a cricket match.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (34)

  • Gul
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:07PM

    Zardari and Singh should concentrate on trade relations. Open trade will open peace & property gates and close war gates.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:14PM

    Thank Allah some one from trully patriotic comes to E.T and we love u Hamid Mir sahab.

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  • Umair
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:18PM

    he might have some personal business meeting with their business tycoons.

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  • Parvez
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:22PM

    In other words expect nothing much. Another way to look at it is that its an initiative being taken by our side as a simple gesture of trying to be be good neighbours and there’s nothing wrong in that.

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  • Khurram
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:23PM

    Although it is a long and difficult mission owing to the many hidden obstacles placed by the vested interests on both side of the Radcliffe Line. But small steps taken in the positive direction to establish an everlasting peace between the Twins is way more encouraging than no steps at all.

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  • Thoughtful
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:26PM

    Interesting that water is considered a smaller issue than the extradition of an acknowledged criminal.

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  • BlackJack
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:26PM

    True, expectations are always high on account of the long gaps in between such meetings. We need to understand that any positive steps will be measured to avoid having to backtrack if something untoward happens yet again (a poignant fear on the Indian side). The invite to Zardari from Manmohan Singh indicates a significant easing of tensions driven by courageous steps taken by the current Pak govt on the trade front; I am sure Zardari will expect some quid pro quo in terms of progress on opening new trade routes, reduced visa restrictions, and possibly Sir Creek (Siachen requires authentication of present ground positions which Pak is reluctant to provide) – hopefully India can give some indications on a possible time frame. I don’t think the Hafiz Saeed issue is going to be raised by India (the US can do that now), although they may question progress on prosecuting the other accused against whom evidence has been provided.Recommend

  • RS
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:27PM

    Colonel Purohit is in India and indian agencies have collected evidences against him, without any international pressure.. Doesn’t onus to collect evidences against Saeed lie with Pakistani agencies… Courts will let Saeed away if Pakistani agencies dont build a strong case.. Are you saying, Pakistani agencies have concluded Saeed is clean? Why hiding behind court’s verdict.. Let Pakistani agencies tell that Saeed is innocent

    Like in so many cases (taliban, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, treatment of minorities, balochistan), Pakistani agencies play double game… they tell the world that they are prosecuting Saeed but build a weak court case against Saeed…And then use excuse of due process at court.. Mr Hamid You yourself bravely covered their duplicity in missing persons cases.

    Do you think, world can’t see through that? It’s so disappointing..!!

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  • Usmani
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:41PM

    What to expect of the President Zardari visit to –Nothing.India would have long list of demand- including castigating the Hafiz Saeed.

    We don’t know what is in the mind of Mr. Zardri when he decided to visit india when at home there are thousand and one problem needs his immediate attention.If his mind that there is possibility of ameliorating the relationship with India- Talk on major issues like Kashmir, Siachin, water dispute having the remotest possibility.

    As chaudhary Nisar has said India is not sending even their cricket and hockey teams what to expect them anything else.If he could persuade them to send their cricket team to visit pak,that would be enough purpose of his visit.

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  • Ali
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:54PM

    Everything is planned, including this article

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  • Falcon
    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:57PM

    As a whole, I see that as a good gesture, but I won’t expect anything more to come out of it just like you have concluded.

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  • Eternal
    Apr 8, 2012 - 12:38AM

    Here are my two cents:

    1) Bal Thackrey is important only in one state of India and not even in the entire state. His importance at national level is to extent of coalition government. Hence his warnings should not be taken too seriously. Moreover, he exercises his power by bunch of uneducated goons, fortunately he doesn’t have suicide bombers or trained assassins working for him.

    2) India understands well the bounty offered by US on Saeed is meant to lure India away to stop importing oil from Iran. Indian government is not going to be fooled by US and hence you barely see any statements made by Indian government.

    3) Indian government definitely expects to investigate Hafeez Saeed’s role just the way India investigated Col Purohit’s role on its own. It is very frustrating to see lack of intent by Pakistani government in restricting Saeed, if not rightfuly prosecuting him.

    4) Only way to improve relationships between two countries is to enhance trade. The more they will get dependent on each other, the less aggressive they will turn against each other.

    5) Given that Pakitani government has failed on numerous occassion to restrict terrorists/suicide bombers, it is just not worth the risk to send Indian cricket team to Pakistan.

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  • MarkH
    Apr 8, 2012 - 2:35AM

    There’s a hidden aspect to politics. Attitudes can change in relations just finding out something as small as they have a similar sense of humor and can get along. You’re much more likely to work through a problem with someone you like and much more likely to simply cut off all relations to people you don’t.
    A small, casual and uneventful meeting can lead to something better.

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  • tknk
    Apr 8, 2012 - 4:10AM

    @Ali:
    You are damn right buddy. Seems as if everything is being choreographed to ensure successful outcome. Both the leaders are in heavy pressure to show some results. Don’t be surprised if there are some dramatic announcements…

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  • Whats in the name.
    Apr 8, 2012 - 8:23AM

    I expect a photo op from the present premiers and the future premiers (Rahul and Bilawal). Also Trade would be discussed, the MFN status and its implications and yes Indians would raise the terrorism issue and Pakistan would raise the K bogey. I guess that is all time would permit. And if they can squeeze in time then catch the latest Housefull II movie at a multiplex.
    Rgds

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  • mr. righty rightist
    Apr 8, 2012 - 8:33AM

    @Thoughtful

    That was exactly my first reaction!

    If water is considered a smaller issue than handing over a criminal, this speaks volumes about Pakistani mindset.

    Harming others takes precedence over one’s own benefit. On the path to self destruction, eh??!!

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  • raw is war
    Apr 8, 2012 - 8:35AM

    I welcome Mr.Zardari. He is a good friend of India and at present the best possible president Pakistan can have.

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  • Ahmad
    Apr 8, 2012 - 9:10AM

    Nothing.

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  • monafiq
    Apr 8, 2012 - 9:20AM

    Visit of Vajpai to Lahore followed Kargil attack. Visit of Zardari to India followed Mumbai attacks. Lets see what will follow this visit? Pir Monafiq Shah

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  • observer
    Apr 8, 2012 - 9:23AM

    @Hamid Mir

    Yes, President Zardari is, at the very least, going to invite Prime Minister Singh to come to Pakistan to watch a cricket match.

    This is indeed a brilliant suggestion. It takes vacuous formality to an entirely different level altogether. See the beauty of the invitation is that it spares both the host and the guest from further action. No international cricket match in Pakistan, so no watching and no hosting.Recommend

  • Mirza
    Apr 8, 2012 - 9:23AM

    I am impressed by this Op Ed. Thanks for brining lots of great writers to ET.
    I fail to understand why people cannot believe that someone can go only for pilgrimage? There are millions of people of all faiths who do it regularly and President might have promised to himself that he would go there before the coming elections campaign starts. People have a right to like or not like Zardari but his religious beliefs are between him and God and let us give him the benefit of doubt that he is not playing games with God or his faith.
    The more significant part of this Op Ed is after their first meeting in NY. When the president invited elected reps of his party at Marriot, a powerful suicide bomber struck successfully killing more than 50 innocent people. Thank God that the President has moved the gathering to PM’s house on time. One hates to think how many of the elected reps would have died at the hand of terrorist. The frightening thing is the terrorist was so informed, skilled and equipped to inflict that kind of terror. No wonder the ISI chief was sacked soon after that incident. The terrorists had all the inside information more than many others raises many questions here that not too many are asking.

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  • Feroz
    Apr 8, 2012 - 11:44AM

    If Singh had not invited a visiting President for lunch he would have been called mean and petty minded. After calling the visiting dignitary for lunch he will still receive brickbats. To expect anything is foolish because Zardari himself is struggling to hold onto his chair and Singh’s government is mired deep in corruption scandals.

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  • lucknow nabob
    Apr 8, 2012 - 12:04PM

    … soon we will see the drop scene of the so called 26/11 set up drama …

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  • tanveer
    Apr 8, 2012 - 1:13PM

    Indian leadership itself very narrow minded peronalities we cannot hope better in case of Pakistani issues like Siachin, water and kashmir issues. History witnessed that they just exploit Pakistani interest. Besides, India pressurized Pakistan with the help of USA in which Hafiz Saeed issue has been again raised. however, we hope that Zardari’s visit of India will bring some positive results in coming days.

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  • A Peshawary
    Apr 8, 2012 - 2:32PM

    It is really a facinating notion to be a proud Pakistani. Since independence we face crisis after crisis and still servive except 1971. We are of kind of our own on the planet. Inspite of all debacles and distructions we still live in fools paradise and hope for the best.

    In todays episode we are surronded by enimies; who are by far away thoughtful, manager of part excellance, executors of thier own kind, ruthless more than any other in human history, yet we are still trying to negotiate all the hurdles against all the adds. Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    Apr 8, 2012 - 3:37PM

    @tanveer:
    Indian leadership may be very narrow minded, but unlike Pakistani leadership. at least they have a mind of their own!

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  • kakaran
    Apr 8, 2012 - 7:41PM

    One would be struggling hard to glean something from the article. The anti indian sentiment which has been nurtured by the establishment and other religious vested interest groups are so strong and compelling that no one can raise his voice against this lunacy which has cost this country everything even the country itself. When there are so many Hafizes around who can speak the truth despite the fact that everyone knows what the truth is. Outsourcing foreign policy to the likes of Hafiz is dangerous. We have to clinch our sovereignty from all non state actors.

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  • Apr 8, 2012 - 8:01PM

    @Usmani:
    Cricket team to visit Pakistan! Not possible for some time now!

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  • Its (still) Econonmy Stupid
    Apr 8, 2012 - 8:18PM

    The significance of Zardari visit is that a head of a Islamic country visited a secular nation for religious pilgrimage. Incidentally he is not the only one to visit India for pilgrimage. People of Buddhist (McLeaod Ganj home to Noble Prize for peace winner Dalai Lama; Sanchi in Ranchi area a site of enlightenment of Buddha), Zoroastrian, Christians (St Francis in Goa), Bahia faith (Lotus Temple in Delhi) this visit should end debate in Pakistan whether Pakistan is a religious or secular state. India is a prime example that a secular country can be a destination for pilgrimage for so many faiths. Imagine the soft power such journey creates for the country never mind the tourism and economic activity. Lesson for Pakistan is to respect minority rights and preserve religious sites so that in future people should be able to travel to Pakistan for their religious pilgrimage. Yes, I am aware of pilgrimages made by people of Sikh faith.

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  • Apr 8, 2012 - 10:08PM

    In one word: Nothing

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  • Hayat Khan
    Apr 8, 2012 - 10:27PM

    @Dr Priyanka:
    No one wants to see your team to Pakistan at all.Please do not even bother. There are few people in Pakistan whose job is to post about Cricket team diplomacy but Majority do not even care . There are enough nations around the world to play cricket and do trade with. In my opinion, This whole Agenda is pushed from Powers outside of Pakistan whereas ordinary Pakistani , majority of them, do not even care. It will be more beneficial to Pakistan to look Westwards. History of Pakistan with India is very dirty. Due to Uncle Sam. All this is happening Because Zardari and his GOVT. is an implant in Pakistan. Where is the world Criminals are allowed under Pardon ( NRO) to govern a Nation? Give me a single example. People do think that nothing Good will ever come out of Zardari other than his own benefits. Looting the nation’s resources is his no. 1 Agenda. This man has no respect in Public . Therefore, No matter what he does matters little. He is only promoting his Son on this trip and himself., nothing else. So, kindly do not bother to send your team this way. We are enjoying cricket much better now without them. Thanks God.

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  • V. Ramaswamy
    Apr 8, 2012 - 11:34PM

    If we want peace we need to stop point scoring.

    There is no equanimity between 26/11 and Samjauta express. Pakistan hasnt a clue about the case except that Indian Police suspect that Col Purohit is involved. It happened on Indian Soil against an Indian Railways property on Indian soil, regardless of who the occupants were. Moreover, it was on its own volition that the investigations were held. Pakistan never broached up the subject even in the passing on this until it was used as a tit for tat argument for Hafiz’ prosecution. So this remains just a point to satisfy the right wing crowd of Pakistan.

    Sir Creek and Siachen itself is not an easy solution. It is usual to blame the Indian Army for the delay. But the decision by it is not simple given Kargil and the threat posed by China-Pakistan Karakoram linkage. Moreover, it is possible that Pakistan will encourage China to occupy that place which will complicate the case further. It has happened with the ceding of Indian Territory to China by Pakistan.

    Anyways, These are not that easy decisions to take. Local constituencies have to be pleased and support elicited.

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  • Khan
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:06AM

    Invite indians to cricket: How silly, I request you, Can you openly talk in your shows for peace with India, you cannot because the two nation theory is such a crap that does not allow you to accept a hindus friendship….Look at the 21st century and look where we are heading….

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  • saleem khan
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:18AM

    Pakistan should eliminate Elements such as Hafiz Saeed, founder of so called Lashkar-e- Tayyaba and the newest established so called Pakistan Difaa Council which is full of religious zealots. or else should forget normalization of ties with India.

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