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Central & South Asia
Indian and Pakistani leaders seek better ties
Zardari holds meeting with Singh in New Delhi during a private trip to famous Sufi Muslim shrine.
Last Modified: 09 Apr 2012 05:34



Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari have held informal talks in New Delhi, where they stressed the need to normalise relations.

Zardari, the first Pakistani president to visit India in seven years, was on a private trip to a famous Sufi Muslim shrine in the state of Rajasthan. He held a 40-minute meeting with Singh, who had invited him for lunch, before visiting the Ajmer Sharif shrine.

"Relations between India and Pakistan should become normal. That's our common desire," Singh said after their meeting.

"Relations between India and Pakistan should become normal. That's our common desire."

- Manmohan Singh, Indian Prime Minister

"We have a number of crises and we are willing to find practical, pragmatic solutions to all these crises and that's the message President Zardari and I would wish to convey," Singh said with Zardari standing by his side.

"We would like to have better relations with India. We have spoken on all topics that we could have spoken about and we are hoping to meet on Pakistani soil very soon," Zardari said.

Zardari invited Singh to visit Pakistan and the latter accepted and said he would visit at a "convenient" time.

Talks to find solutions to several contentious issues that began in 2004 were suspended by India after the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed.

India holds Pakistan-based groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the attacks. It wants Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Sayeed, the alleged mastermind behind the attacks, to be arrested.

During their meeting, Singh told Zardari that it was "imperative to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice and prevent activities aimed against India from Pakistani soil", Ranjan Mathai, the Indian foreign secretary, said at a press briefing.

Mathai said Singh offered Zardari India's help in the rescue of trapped Pakistani soldiers near Siachen glacier in the disputed Kashmir region.

Relations have warmed since Pakistan promised last year to reciprocate the Most Favoured Nation trade status that India had granted it in 1996.

Pilgrimage to Ajmer

Zardari's son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was part of the 40-member Pakistani delegation.

The shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer is visited by pilgrims cutting across religious boundaries [Reuters]

The last Pakistani president to visit India was Pervez Musharraf, who also offered prayers at the Sufi shrine, 350km southwest of Delhi.

Tariq Pirzada, a Pakistan-based analyst and columnist, said that Zardari's trip is being portrayed as pilgrimage.

"But in reality, he is going [to India] as the commander-in-chief of Pakistan and New Delhi is laying out the carpet," he told Al Jazeera.

India was keen on giving Zardari a warm welcome for several reasons, Pirzada said.

"After he [Zardari] was elected, he is the one who said we need to freeze the issue of Kashmir for a generation," he said.

"He is also the proponent of 'no first nuclear strike' against India, contrary to the official position of Pakistan. And he has granted the status of most favourable nation to india."

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947 and also carried out tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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