Amid improving ties, Zardari to meet Manmohan, visit Ajmer

New Delhi/Islamabad: Amid a marked improvement in bilateral ties, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will visit India April 8 to offer prayers at a revered Sufi shrine in Ajmer and also meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for lunch.

Islamabad has announced the visit, but India has yet to do so as it works out the security and other issues to welcome Zardari, the first presidential visit from Pakistan in the last seven years. Pervez Musharraf was the last Pakistani president to visit India in April 2005.

Zardari will make a “private visit for prayers” at the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz in Ajmer Sharif, Pakistani presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in Islamabad.

“The president has also accepted the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for lunch in New Delhi en route to Ajmer Sharif,” he added.

Zardari, the husband of the slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, will return to Islamabad the same day.

Manmohan Singh and Zardari last met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Yekaterinburg in Russia in 2009.

At that much-publicised meeting which took place amid the post 26/11 freeze in ties, Manmohan Singh had bluntly told Zardari within earshot of the media that he has the mandate to tell him that Pakistani territory can’t be allowed for anti-India terrorist activities.

Pakistan’s powerful military establishment had reacted sharply and Zardari was informally replaced by Gilani as Pakistan’s chief interlocutor with India.

With Zardari’s clout declining in Pakistan’s shifting political power equations, India is not expecting much from the talks, but it will be a good opportunity, said sources, to reinforce positive momentum in bilateral ties.

India and Pakistan resumed their peace process, which stalled after the 26/11 terror attack, in February last year. Meeting in the Maldives on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in November, Manmohan Singh and Gilani promised to open a new chapter in the history of the troubled India-Pakistan relationship.

Since then, Pakistan has made concrete moves in the direction of granting India the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status and a Pakistani judicial team visited India in connection with the 26/11 attack case.

Manmohan Singh had met Gilani met on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul last week and welcomed an upturn in bilateral ties. In that meeting, Manmohan Singh exhorted Gilani to do something together substantive that could set the stage for his visit to Islamabad.

Zardari is expected to renew an invitation to Manmohan Singh to visit Islamabad.

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