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Zardari likely to press Manmohan to visit Pakistan

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is expected to press Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan, but the sources said it's premature to accept the inivtation. In all likelihood, the talks could end in both leaders directing their foriegn ministers to move the peace process forward
By HT Correspondent | IANS, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 07, 2012 02:37 PM IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to hold one-on-one talks with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari sans aides for around an hour on Sunday, fuelling speculation of a more substantive outcome from what is seen as a personal visit high on symbolism.

The talks will be held between the two leaders without any aides or members of their delegation present, official sources said.

This has raised the bar for the visit, which has morphed from a personal visit into high-wire diplomacy whose ripple-effects can be felt in India-Pakistan relations for some time to come.

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.

Zardari is expected to press Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan, but the sources said it's premature to accept the inivtation. In all likelihood, the talks could end in both leaders directing their foriegn ministers to move the peace process forward, specially in view of external affairs minister SM Krishna's visit to Islamabad in June-July.

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 usher in 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.

In the first presidential visit from Pakistan in the last 7 years, Zardari, accompanied by a 40-member delegation, comes here to New Delhi Sunday morning. After touching down in his special acircraft at 11.30 am, Zardari heads straight to the prime minister's official residence for one-one-one talks, followed by lunch involving senior members of the delegation.

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

Interior minister Rehman Malik will be the sole minister accompanying Zardari on this important visit, but there is speculation that Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar may also be coming.

Amid improving ties, Hafiz Saeed, the suspected 26/11 mastermind and the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, however, remains a festering irritant. India has been closely monitoring his anti-India jihad speeches and activities, and wants Pakistan to shun its denial mode and take credible action against the man who has made it his mission to poison the waters of bilateral ties.

Krishna on 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 Laskar-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. Against this backdrop, Manmohan Singh and Zardari are expected to discuss "all issues," including Kashmir and terror, that bedevil the accident-prone India-Pakistan relationship.

Krishna indicated that the scope of discussions will be all-encompassing. "All bilateral issues between the two countries are likely to be discussed. I don't know if they will have enough time to go into details, but the very fact the prime minister is hosting a lunch, they might get a chance to discuss some bilateral issues," Krishna said.

2000 cops deployed

Some 2,000 police personnel will be deployed for Zardari's visit to New Delhi en route to Ajmer for offering prayers at the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, an officer said.

Special units will be deployed atop high-rise buildings and along the route's Zardari's convoy will take, the officer added.

As is the protocol on such occassions, three-tier security will be in place during the visit.

"The outer circle security will be handled by the Delhi Police in uniform while the inner security will be handled by a special unit of Delhi police officers in plain clothes," Joint Commissioner of Police (Central Range) Taj Hasan.

He said all the security arrangements had been put in place.

Zardari will arrive in the capital Sunday morning and have lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his 7 Race Course Road official residence, after which they would hold talks.

Zardari will thereafter leave for Jaipur, from where he will drive down to the Ajmer shrine. He would spend about 30 minutes at the shrine and would return to Jaipur by 6.15 pm, an official said.

Zardari will be the third Pakistan president to visit the Ajmer shrine.

In the first presidential visit from Pakistan in the last seven years, Zardari is likely to be accompanied by an over 40-member delegation that will include interior minister Malik, foreign secretary Salman Bashir, senior aides, close family members and more than a dozen journalists.

It's not certain Zardari's son Bilawal will be part of the presidential delegation, but Zardari is likely to bring his two daughters, Bakhthawar and Asifa, who are known for their sharp tweets defending their father against his critics.

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