Zardari’s India visit raises hopes of breakthrough
PTI / IANS NEW DELHI / ISLAMABAD 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. Zardari on Saturday said he did not expect the issue of Hafiz Saeed to be the focus of his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, amid growing pressure on Pakistan to prosecute the LeT founder for his role in the Mumbai attacks. “My stance on Saeed is not different from that of my government. My visit to India is of a religious nature and I do not think Manmohan Singh will make me sit (and discuss only) this issue,” Zardari told reporters.
In Islamabad, Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said Zardari will invite Singh to visit Pakistan by the end of this year during their meeting in New Delhi.
“President Zardari will invite Prime Minister Singh to visit Pakistan by the end of this year,” Basit said.
While the Pakistani leadership has extended the invitation to the Indian Prime Minister earlier also, this would be the first time that a timeframe has been proposed for the summit meeting.
On his part, Singh has accepted the invitation earlier but made it clear that he would undertake the visit only if there is likelihood of a substantive outcome.
On the Saeed issue, New Delhi has said that this can figure along with a host of other topics during the Singh-Zardari talks.
Pakistan on Friday rejected external affairs minister S M Krishna’s assertion that India had provided adequate evidence linking Saeed to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by the Pakistan-based Lashkare- Taiba, that left 166 people dead.
The Foreign Office said India had not given “any solid and significant evidence” against Saeed.
“There is nothing concrete and maintainable. From its own Mumbai trial experience, India knows well that hearsay cannot substitute for hard evidence,” Basit said.
Krishna had said that “the dossier that the home minister has provided to the Pakistan government contains every detail of Saeed’s involvement in the planning and execution of terrorist attack on Mumbai.” “So no amount of denial would exonerate them unless there is a judicial enquiry into the whole episode whereby responsibilities can be fixed but unfortunately Pakistan government has not thought it proper to investigate this.” Zardari will be the first Pakistani head of state to visit India since 2005, when the then military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, had travelled to New Delhi for talks with the Indian leadership.
Pakistan’s top leadership has described Zardari’s trip as a “private visit” aimed at fulfilling a long-standing desire to offer prayers at the famous 13th century Sufi shrine at Ajmer in Rajasthan.
“The basic objective of the president’s visit is to pay obeisance at the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharif,” Basit said.