NEW DELHI: Officially, President Asif Ali Zardari is just having a quick lunch with India’s leader on his way to visit a shrine in Ajmer. But Mr Zardari’s trip to New Delhi on Sunday marks a milestone in the warming relations between the two neighbours.
Such are the pressures on the nuclear-armed countries that even as they inch closer together, they cannot be seen as fully embracing.
Zardari can’t risk annoying Pakistan’s army by holding official talks with India, according to analysts. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faces pressure of his own to keep some distance from Pakistan until it cracks down on anti-Indian militants.
President Zardari’s trip to New Delhi, the first by a Pakistani head of state since 2005, is the most visible sign that the neighbours have put the enmity that followed the 2008 terror attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai behind them and are working to strengthen economic and political ties.
All issues are on the table, Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said. But he was not sure how deep the discussion would be.
“After all it’s a private visit of Zardari to India. He is coming on a religious mission. I don’t know whether they would have time enough to go into details,” he said on Friday.
Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said the lunch will help promote “peace and prosperity in this part of the world, and we are looking forward for a constructive engagement between the two leaders.”
Relations have slowly improved in recent years, culminating in Pakistan’s pledge to give India “most-favoured nation” trading status by the end of this year. The World Bank estimates that annual trade could grow to as much as $9 billion from $2 billion if trade barriers are lifted.
Pakistan’s commerce minister is visiting India a few days after Zardari’s trip to join his Indian counterpart in opening a “Lifestyle Pakistan” expo highlighting fashion, food and arts from India’s neighbour.
“I think the India-Pakistan bilateral relationship is looking up. I think there are a number of issues which ought to be resolved and I am sure mutual talks will eventually resolve those issues,” Mr Krishna said.
Singh does not appear ready to reciprocate with his own informal trip to Pakistan — perhaps, as some commentators have suggested, couched in a visit to his boyhood home in the Pakistani village of Gah — unless there is real movement in talks between the two countries.
When Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani asked him last month when he would visit, Mr Singh said: “I said let us do something solid so that we can celebrate.”—AP