PM to meet Pak Prez Zardari on April 8
Islamabad: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi over lunch on April 8 before making a private visit to the famous 13th century Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer.
This will be the first visit to India by a Pakistani Head of State since 2005, when then President Pervez Musharraf had travelled to New Delhi.
"The President has accepted the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for lunch in New Delhi en route to Ajmer Sharif on April 8," presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.
Zardari will visit Ajmer in Rajasthan "on a private visit for ziarat and prayers at the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz", Mr Babar said.
"The President will return to Islamabad the same day," he added.
The visit comes against the backdrop of several steps taken by India and Pakistan in recent months to normalise bilateral relations, especially in trade.
Zardari and Dr Singh had last met on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Russia in 2009.
Earlier in the day, Pakistani officials told PTI that a request for a private visit by President Zardari to Ajmer had been forwarded to the Indian side. The government had kept the visit under wraps as it was originally intended to be a "purely private" matter, officials said.
Though the visit was supposed to be devoid of political or diplomatic content, the officials had not ruled out the possibility of some official meetings as a Pakistani head of state would be visiting India after a long gap.
A presidential aide, who spoke on condition that he would not be named, said Zardaris visit to Ajmer had been in the pipeline for almost a year.
"This visit has been planned since last year as the President wants to make a trip to the dargah in Ajmer," the aide said.
Zardari's India visit is intended to be purely for religious purposes. However, the Indian government is looking at the possibility to add some political discussions during his day-long visit.
"While as of now, the visit is purely for religious purposes, efforts are being made so that some political discussions could also take place during the day-long trip of Mr Zardari," sources in Delhi said earlier in the day.
India and Pakistan resumed their peace process last year after a gap of over two years in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, which were blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Following several rounds of talks, Pakistan recently switched over to a negative list regime for trade, paving the way to giving India Most Favoured Nation-status by the beginning of next year.
Senior officials of the two sides will hold talks in the coming months on key areas like terrorism, the military standoff on the Siachen glacier and the Sir Creek boundary dispute, and this is expected to be followed by the Indian External Affairs Ministers visit to Islamabad by July.
Zardari is known to be superstitious and his spiritual beliefs have been widely reported in the Pakistani media. According to media reports, one of his rituals is the sacrifice of a black goat to protect him from evil. Scores of black goats have reportedly been sacrificed since Zardari moved into the presidency.