President calls India trip ‘very fruitful’
PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday became the first Pakistani head of state since 2005 to visit India, on a oneday trip that he described as “very fruitful” in improving ties between the rivals.
During a visit billed as private but of great diplomatic significance, Zardari lunched with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and invited him to visit Pakistan.
The meeting has received a cautious welcome from analysts who see it as another sign of improving relations between the bitter neighbours, but the issue of Pakistani militant activity against India remains deeply problematic.
India continues to press Pakistan to prosecute the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, blamed on the militant group Lashkare- Taiba (Army of the Pure), which was founded by hardline Islamist Hafiz Saeed.
Saeed lives openly in Pakistan, where the government says it has insufficient evidence to prosecute him, but his terror links were highlighted recently by a $10-million bounty for his arrest offered by the United States.
“We have had some very fruitful bilateral talks together,” Zardari said at a joint news conference during the first presidential trip to India since Pervez Musharraf visited seven years ago.
“We would like to have better relations with India.
We spoke on all topics that we could,” added Zardari, who was accompanied by a large delegation including his son and Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
The lunch with kebabs and curries from all over India, including the disputed region of Kashmir was preceded by a 40-minute private conversation between the two leaders.
“I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit,” Singh told reporters.
“President Zardari has invited me to visit Pakistan and I’d be very happy to visit Pakistan at a mutually convenient date.” He stressed that relations between the countries “should become normal.
That is our common desire.” Analysts had predicted little progress on sensitive topics such as Kashmir, which is divided but claimed in full by both countries, or the presence of anti-India militant groups in Pakistan.
Both were discussed, along with “the activities of Hafiz Saeed” and ways to increase trade between the countries, India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters.
A visa agreement that will simplify cross-border travel had been worked out and would be signed at a later date.