Pilgirm's progress: diplomacy of the dargah | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Pilgirm's progress: diplomacy of the dargah

delhi Updated: Apr 08, 2012 01:37 IST

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his government insist that his trip to the dargah of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer is a purely personal trip.

The Indian government has joined in, saying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's little repast with Zardari is nothing more than a courtesy call.

What this is not is a summit. None of the normal elaborate diplomatic preliminaries to a meeting of two country leaders has been done.

There have been no "sherpas" to thrash out differences over thorny issues or write out drafts of agreements to be signed at the actual event. Zardari and Singh will not even have note takers at their meeting.

However, this is more than a private visit and a courtesy call.

But Zardari made it a point on Saturday, the day before his Ajmer arrival, to meet Pakistani Army Chief, Pervez Kayani, the new Inter-Services Intelligence chief and his prime minister before he left.

And, as any Pakistani journalist will tell you, the truth is Zardari has only a minimal interest in holy sites. This is only his second trip to Ajmer, the first being with his late wife.

What the two leaders do represent is a broad consensus between India and Pakistan that there is a window of opportunity to put some momentum behind a peace process that has not broken but that has also not progressed.

Zardari is known to have the backing of the military in carrying out such a move. Kayani has no love for India, but right now he has a terrible relationship with the United States, a messier situation in Afghanistan than he had realised and an unusually weak position for an army chief domestically.

Keeping things quiet on his eastern border, he believes, makes sense. It was one reason the army backed the decision to grant most-favoured nation status to India.

Zardari, a good Sindhi businessman, has never had much interest in Kashmir and the confrontation with India. One reason he threw so much weight behind the granting of MFN status to India.

Singh has long argued that stabilising ties with Pakistan is essential to India's rise as a global player. And with this own political fortunes on the wane, he is more than eager to have another go at peace in our time.

One can expect that both sides will say set pieces - one side will ask for movement on terrorism, especially the 26/11 case and its perpetrators, the other will ask something about Kashmir.

Because it is not a summit, there won't be any detailed issues. What will happen, in my guess, is that Zardari will proffer an invitation to Singh to visit Pakistan. And Singh will accept.

That's all, but more than enough to get the ball rolling for bigger things by the fall of this year.