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Inside Story
A new chapter in India-Pakistan relations?
As Asif Ali Zardari visits India, we ask whether this signals a thaw in relations between the neighbours.
Last Modified: 09 Apr 2012 09:05

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, has become the first Pakistani head of state to visit India in seven years.

Although Zardari stressed that the trip was a private one - he visited a famous Sufi Muslim shrine in the state of Rajasthan - he did hold a 40-minute meeting with Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, who invited him to lunch.

"[The visit] is a belated April fool I would say because Asif Ali Zardari was facing so many problems in Pakistan .... It is being said it's a personal visit. He has taken a 40-member delegation with him along with his beloved son .... So one of the objectives of this was to distract the attention of the public from the key issues that concern ... Pakistan; number two, to launch his son in a diplomatic way ...; and thirdly, of course, on all such occasions that we see Asif Ali Zardari is absent from Pakistan whenever there is a disaster ...."

- Naveed Ahmad, a Pakistani political commentator

During the meeting, the two leaders focused on a range of issues, including trade relations between the two nations, which have improved since Pakistan promised last year to reciprocate the Most Favoured Nation trade status that India had granted it in 1996.

On the political side, both now say that they want to normalise relations.

After their meeting, Singh said: "The relations between India and Pakistan should become normal. That's the common desire. We have a number of issues and we are willing to find practical, pragmatic solutions to all those issues."

For his part, Zardari said: "India and Pakistan are neighbours. 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."

Dominating the discussion was the issue of Hafiz Sayeed, the man suspected of masterminding the Mumbai 2008 attacks in which 166 people were killed. India holds Pakistan-based groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba which Sayeed leads, responsible for the attacks and wants Sayeed to be arrested.

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

The last Pakistani president to visit India was Pervez Musharraf, who also offered prayers at the Sufi shrine visited by Zardari.

So, was this visit largely symbolic or could it signal improving ties between the two nations? Could Zardari's visit start a new chapter in relations between India and Pakistan? How has the trip been viewed in Islamabad? And why are they so wary of holding official talks?

Joining Inside Story with presenter Shakuntala Santhiran to discuss this are: Kuldip Nayar, a former member of the Indian parliament who is now a journalist; Naveed Ahmad, a Pakistani investigative journalist and political commentator; and Marvi Sirmed, a Pakistani political analyst and columnist who writes for Newsweek and Pakistan's Daily Times.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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