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Singh accepts Zardari's invitation to visit Pakistan

April 08, 2012

President Asif Ali Zardari, center, and his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, right, wave as India's Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, second right, looks on during their welcoming in New Delhi, India, Sunday, April 8, 2012.—  AP Photo

NEW DELHI: President Asif Ali Zardari has returned home after concluding his one-day trip to India on Sunday, describing it as “very fruitful” in improving ties between the two countries.

During a visit billed as private but of great diplomatic significance, Zardari lunched with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and invited him to visit Pakistan.

The meeting has received a cautious welcome from analysts who see it as another sign of improving relations between the neighbours.

“We have had some very fruitful bilateral talks together,” Zardari said at a joint news conference during the first presidential trip to India since Pervez Musharraf visited seven years ago.

“We would like to have better relations with India. We spoke on all topics that we could,” added Zardari, who is accompanied by a large 40 member delegation including Interior Minister Rehman Malik and 25 members of his family, including his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and daughters Asifa and Bakhtawar.

On his first visit to India, Bilawal stood behind the leaders in a sign of his growing role in politics.

The lunch —with kebabs and curries from all over India, including the disputed region of Kashmir —was preceded by a 40-minute private conversation between the two leaders.

“I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit,” Singh told reporters.

“President Zardari has invited me to visit Pakistan and I'd be very happy to visit Pakistan at a mutually convenient date.”

He stressed that relations between the countries “should become normal. That is our common desire.”

Analysts expected little progress on Sunday on sensitive topics such as Kashmir or the presence of anti-India militant groups in Pakistan.

Both were discussed, along with “the activities of Hafiz Saeed” and ways to increase trade between the countries, India's Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters.

“Both felt that we need to move forward step by step,” Mathai said of the talks between the leaders, which will be followed by meetings between home and trade ministers in the coming months.

He said Singh offered Zardari India's help in finding Pakistani soldiers and civilians engulfed by an avalanche on Saturday near the 6,000-metre-high (18,500-foot) Siachen glacier in Kashmir - known as the world's highest battlefield.

Zardari thanked Singh but did not immediately respond to the offer to help rescue teams, backed by helicopters and sniffer dogs combing an area one-km (half a mile) wide with snow up to 80 feet (25 metres) deep.

SHRINE VISIT

The president later visited a Sufi shrine in the town of Ajmer, 350 kilometres (220 miles) southwest of New Delhi, where he viewed the renowned complex of mosques built around a tomb commemorating a saint who died in 1236.

Both President Zardari and his son laid 'chadars' at the shrine and offered prayers.

He also donated $1 million for the holy shrine, Indian media reported.

“The soulful happiness that I have experienced at this holy place is beyond explanation. I pray to Allah to make life easy for the entire humanity,” Zardari wrote in a diary at the shrine.