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Updated: April 8, 2012 03:05 IST

Despite opposition, Zardari all set to visit India

Anita Joshua
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in this file photo.
PTI
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in this file photo.

Despite demands from various quarters for calling off his India visit, President Asif Ali Zardari was all set to head off to New Delhi on Sunday morning and his entourage has been growing by the day. As of Saturday evening, the entourage was 57-member strong and there remained the possibility of legislators and others with the ‘SAARC sticker' joining him separately as the sticker allows them to enter India without a visa.

The presidential entourage will include his son and chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, the former Chairman of the Senate, Farooq Naek; presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani. For the Foreign Secretary — who had served in India between 1999 and 2003 — this will be a brief return to a country which had expelled him nearly a decade ago for allegedly funding the Hurriyat Conference.

Mr. Zardari will be accompanied by a three-member delegation for the lunch being hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Those included are his son, Mr. Malik and Mr. Jilani.

Three Gulfstream aircraft will ferry the entourage to Delhi from where they will move to Jaipur. In Jaipur, the entourage will switch over to helicopters provided by India. This will be Mr. Zardari's first visit to India as President.

Apprehension

Meanwhile, with Pakistan under pressure to proceed against Jama'at-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, there is apprehension within the country that India will use this high-profile visit to ratchet up the issue. However, the President himself appeared confident that this would not be the dominant subject. Speaking to reporters in Lahore, he said: “My visit is of a religious nature. I do not think Dr. Singh will make me sit and discuss only this issue.”

The JuD had on Friday demanded that Mr. Zardari cancel his India visit and with Saturday morning breaking with news of 117 Pakistani troops going missing in an avalanche in Siachen, the chatterati have been wondering aloud if it would not be better for the President — who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Army — to fly to the avalanche-hit site instead of going on his pilgrimage.

Others, however, expressed the hope that the avalanche on the eve of the visit might push the two countries into making a serious attempt at demilitarising the highest combat zone in the world.

No specific issue on agenda

Sandeep Dikshit reports from New Delhi

But for separate and short statements from Mr. Zardari and Dr. Singh, no concrete outcome is expected nor are specific issues likely to be discussed during the lunch hosted by the Prime Minister on Sunday, according to highly-placed sources.

New Delhi is viewing the visit as one that will spur greater interaction between the leaderships of two countries as they go about repairing their ties after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

India and Pakistan have bucked the international trend of frequent meetings to improve bilateral ties. Most of the high level Indo-Pak interactions have been sporadic and subject to the politics of the time (Mr. Zardari and Dr. Singh last met in 2009) although the pace has picked up over the past year.

An emotional visit

For Mr. Zardari, the visit to the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer is likely to be an emotional return to the place where he last prayed with his wife Benazir Bhutto in 2005 for their safe return to Pakistan and for a win in the elections. Sources close to the Bhutto family said Benazir had promised to return if their wishes were fulfilled. For Mr. Zardari, this would be the last opportunity to honour her wish as he would get busy with the approaching election in Pakistan.

He would also be making a political statement of endorsing the liberal version of sub-continental Islam by praying at the shrine, a gesture that had not gone down well with followers of more rigorous versions of Islam.

The lunch would be a restricted affair, limited to about six persons from each side, and would be preceded by a closed-door meeting between Dr. Singh and Mr. Zardari.

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This visit of Mr. Zardari would not make any change to the present status of Indo-Pak relationship. The core issue would not be addressed as Mr. Zardari already made it clear that his visit is purely religious and hoped India would not raise any disputed issue such as Hafiz saeed, Zaki-ur-rahman Lakhvi, Kashmir etc. Leadership on both the side are at present not strong enough so as to handle and discuss the long pending disputed issue.

from:  Sanjay Nanoti
Posted on: Apr 8, 2012 at 11:09 IST

"MY VISIT IS OF RELIGIOUS NATURE,I DO NOT THINK DR.SINGH WILL MAKE ME SIT AND DISCUSS ONLY THE ISSUE OF HAFIZ SAEED" given the statement of Mr.Zardari,the President of Pakistan one would hope that the authorities at the helm of affairs acknowledge the same and confine their talks to its limitations not to embarrass the august guest in view of the rumblings in Pakistan over his visit to India at this moment of time.If the President himself is keen in discussing the point in question which is about Mr.Hafiz Saeed it will be O.K.

from:  Anthony
Posted on: Apr 8, 2012 at 08:19 IST

This is a good thing happening to both the countries…..now and going forward. I, though, wish that a similar gesture of friendship and support would have emanated from India at the Siachen Glacier recently, and that Pakistan would have taken up on that. I know it is a wishful thinking…..but it does not have to be between the two peoples who were......one and the same just 7 decades ago. – Perhaps a distantly pragmatic dream, but one that yearns for our heritage of human connection!

from:  Dinesh Sampat
Posted on: Apr 8, 2012 at 07:58 IST

talking to zarddari will hardly matter as its the isi and army that rule pakistan ...

from:  bhagat
Posted on: Apr 7, 2012 at 19:27 IST

It will be great if it does not turn out to be another big national expense of no purpose. If past
is anything to go by, the future of such meetings can only be seen with some degree of
cynicism! Let us hope something comes good out of the encounter!

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Apr 7, 2012 at 19:13 IST

It is providential that Manmohan-Zardari meet which may be termed Indo-Pak summit, tet-a-tet without spoilers of aids takes place on Easter Sunday symbol of a new resurrected,glorious and never dying life of heavenly peace and joy. May it lay unshakable robust foundations for a new bebinning in Indo-Pak relations in all pheres of life -- economic, social, cultural and political.

from:  James Kottoor
Posted on: Apr 7, 2012 at 19:00 IST

Why not? What else should they talk about? Weather, mangoe crop, cricket fixing? I am unable to understand India's fixation about talks with Pakistan? Our ministers keep on issuing statements and they (Pak) keep on trashing.

from:  Krishnan
Posted on: Apr 7, 2012 at 17:56 IST

no need to worry Zardari, Saeed,kasab, parliament attack, kandhar plane hi-jack and so on or any such future activites will come in a way. You know our weakness and that India has now no leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indra Gandhi to teach you a lesson, so enjoy killing us.

from:  Dinesh Chauhan
Posted on: Apr 7, 2012 at 17:49 IST

Why these meetings when both leaders thier people know that nothing will come out. Pakistan will not amend his acts and India will keep on talking only, no actions.

from:  Dinesh
Posted on: Apr 7, 2012 at 17:40 IST
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