New Delhi: Dubbed as “Dargah Diplomacy,” Paki-stan President Asif Ali Zardari’s day-long private visit to India on April 8 to offer prayers at the Ajmer Sharif did help the two South Asian neighbors reduce mutual tension and consider practical ways to speedily settle some of the less contentious issues such as Sir Creek and Siachen.
At his one-on-one meeting with Zardari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, however, made it a point to highlight the issue of terrorism upfront and unequivocally told the Pakistani leader that action must be initiated against JuD chief Hafiz Saeed and other perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attack.
Terming the 40-minute meeting as “friendly and constructive,” Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said Singh also told Zardari that Pakistan must prevent terrorist activities against India from its soil. “The (two) leaders discussed the problem of terrorism, which is a major issue by which the Indian people will judge progress in the bilateral relationship,’’ he added.
Reflecting the view of Islamabad, the Pakistan President said the issue of Hafiz Saeed, on whose head the US recently declared a bounty of $10 million, needed to be discussed between the Home/Interior secretaries of the two countries, who would meet shortly in Islamabad. He also stated that there were legal processes in Pakistan without going through, which the civilian government could not move against the masterminds of the Mumbai attack.
But for the first time perhaps, Islamabad indicated that it was seriously looking at the India-China model of bilateral relations wherein the two countries have put contentious issue on the backburner and made significant gains in their trade and commercial ties.
Zardari raised issues such as Sir Creek, Siachen and Jammu and Kashmir and stressed the need for resolving them. To this, Manmohan Singh said both sides needed to move step by step and that the bilateral dialogue was in the mutual interest of the two countries.
As the two leaders warmly shook hands at the start of their meeting, Zardari renewed Islamabad’s invitation to Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan. The Indian Prime Minister, who was born at Gah village (now in Pakistan), said he would be very happy to visit Pakistan on a mutually convenient date. Contrary to Pakistan’s expectations that the visit could fructify by the end of the year, Singh gave no such indication.
Official sources said the Prime Minister’s visit required substantive preparations and a step-by-step approach. New Delhi’s expectation is that the dialogue process with Pakistan should produce concrete results in the coming days ,which could pave the way for the visit.
There was also a mention of the liberalized visa regime that the two countries desire to usher in. The two leaders observed that an accord could be signed when the Home/Interior secretaries meet.
The Prime Minister conveyed to Zardari his condolences over reports that more than 100 Pakistani soldiers were feared buried after an avalanche smashed into the Pakistani army’s headquarters near Siachen. He said India was ready to provide any help that Pakistan needed to deal with the tragedy. Zardari thanked Singh and said he would get back to him after talking to his officials in Islamabad.
In his brief media statement, Singh said the relations between the two neighbors should become normal. “That’s our common desire. We have a number of issues and we are willing to find practical, pragmatic solutions to all those issues and that’s the message that President Zardari and I would like to convey.’’
Zardari said Pakistan 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 Pakistan’s soil soon.’’
After the talks, the Prime Minister hosted lunch in honour of his guest and his delegation. Zardari and his entourage later left for Jaipur on way to Ajmer.