If Asif Ali Zardari's visit this Sunday — the first by a democratic leader of Pakistan since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto travelled to Simla in 1972 — is an indication of the opportunities that lie ahead on the bilateral front, the $10 million price placed by the U.S. on Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed's head is a reminder of the enormous challenges still remaining. For New Delhi, wisdom lies in not allowing national exultation over the American bounty to colour its expectations of this private — but significant — presidential visit. Hafiz Saeed is as much an enemy of India as he is of democracy in Pakistan and there is little point in reminding Mr. Zardari of his powerlessness in the face of the Lashkar chief's uniformed patrons. Despite the evident tension which exists between the civilian, judicial and military elements that make up the Pakistani state, there is no denying the new ease in relations with India. The dialogue which was suspended after the Mumbai attacks of 2008 has resumed and is producing results. Domestic detractors accuse the Pakistan People's Party government of all manner of sins, including that of being too “pro-India,” but that hasn't stopped it from taking the bold step of freeing bilateral trade from the Kashmir issue. And now, Mr. Zardari has decided to visit India, a risky step for any Pakistani civilian leader, but particularly so for one as unpopular as him.
The last time he met Manmohan Singh was in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in June 2009, where the Prime Minister publicly talked down to him about the Mumbai incident. The two are unlikely to reminisce about that encounter. More likely, Mr. Zardari will reiterate a long standing invitation to Dr. Singh to visit Pakistan. He must make that visit soon. The Prime Minister should also spare a thought for an 81-year-old Pakistani man languishing in Ajmer jail after being sentenced to life imprisonment in a 1992 murder case. Khalil Chisty maintains he was a bystander in the group clash in which one man died of gunshot injuries. The Rajasthan High Court suspended the sentences of three others who were convicted with him. Only Dr. Chisty's appeal for suspension was turned down. The judge said “no leniency” should be shown as he was a Pakistani and that an example should be made of him. As Mr. Zardari undertakes a pilgrimage to Ajmer Sharif, the ailing doctor's imprisonment in the city will be an embarrassing display of the Indian system at its most inhumane. Dr. Singh, whose government recently made a huge effort to bring back two Indian children sent into foster care by the Norwegian state, must immediately take steps to release Dr. Chisty and send him home.