Zardari to invite Manmohan to Pakistan, all issues on table

April 7th, 2012 - 8:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi/Islamabad, April 7 (IANS) In his first visit to India, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari will invite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit his country “by the end of this year” when the two leaders hold one-on-one talks here Sunday sans aides and note-takers.

“President Zardari will invite Prime Minister Singh to visit Pakistan by the end of this year,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit told reporters in Islamabad.

This is not the first time Pakistan leaders will be inviting Manmohan Singh, but this is the first time a time-frame has been set up, triggering speculation of substantive talks on Sunday leading to a breakthrough that in turn could pave the way for such a visit.

During a brief meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had invited Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan. Manmohan Singh had replied that he would be happy to do so if there was something substantive and “something to celebrate.”

After the talks, no formal statements are likely to be made by both leaders and neither are any agreements likely to be announced. The action will be mostly behind the scenes to bridge the trust deficit on the so-called core issues, the sources said.

In Islamabad, the foreign office spokesperson described Zardari’s visit to India as “important.” He said that although there was “no agenda”, the two leaders are expected to discuss all bilateral issues and the regional situation.

“As far as the talks are concerned, there is no agenda and it is not a structured dialogue,” he said. “But when the two leaders meet, bilateral issues between Pakistan and India and the regional situation will be discussed.”

“We expect this round (of the dialogue) to be completed in June-July. After that, the Indian foreign minister is to visit Pakistan to review the process,” Basit said.

Manmohan Singh and Zardari are expected to discuss “all issues,” including Kashmir and terror, that bedevil the India-Pakistan relationship, said informed sources in New Delhi.

In the first presidential visit from Pakistan in the last seven years, Zardari, accompanied by over 40-member delegation, comes here to New Delhi Sunday morning.

After touching down in his special acircraft at 11.30 a.m., Zardari heads straight to the prime minister’s official residence at 7 Race Course Road for one-on-one talks, followed by lunch with senior members of the delegation.

He flies in the afternoon to Ajmer to offer prayers at the Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.

Zardari will be accompanied by his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar, close members of the family and the president’s office.

The 24-year-old Bilawal, who took over as PPP chairman when he was 19 after the death of his mother Benazir Bhutto in 2007, will also be at the private lunch Manmohan Singh is hosting for a small group from both sides. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is likely to be present at the lunch.

The inclusion of Jilani in the presidential delegation is interesting as he was expelled by India in 2003 after being accused of funnelling funds to Kashmiri separatists. Jilani was then serving as Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner to India.

The last time Manmohan Singh had one-on-one talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in the idyllic Addu island in the Maldives, both leaders had declared their resolve to move beyond post-Mumbai bitterness to herald a new chapter in their volatile relations.

Since then, much water has flowed, with positive currents dominating in the relationship. Pakistan has moved in the direction of granting India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. Last month, a judicial team from Pakistan had visited India to take forward the dragging trial of the 26/11 terror accused.

Amid improving ties, Hafiz Saeed, the suspected 26/11 mastermind and the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, however, remains a festering irritant. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna Friday sought to up the pressure on Islamabad, saying no amount of denial would exonerate him “unless there is a judicial inquiry into the whole episode whereby responsibilities can be fixed”.

“But unfortunately, the Pakistan government has not thought it proper to investigate this,” said Krishna in a sharply-worded reminder to Islamabad to act against the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief who is carrying on his tirade against India with impunity.

The US announcement of a $10 million bounty on information leading to the conviction of Saeed has only bolstered India’s case.

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