Pakistani President Zardari has met with the Indian prime minister in New Delhi raising hopes for further reconciliation between the nuclear rivals. Both agreed to work at improving the bilateral relationship.
The high-voltage political meet between the leaders of India and Pakistan went according to script. Over a mouth-watering spread of delicacies, tastefully selected from various regions, Sunday's lunch meeting in New Delhi between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the visiting Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari seems to have set the stage for an early and productive visit by the former to Islamabad.
Singh and Zardari had a 40-minute meeting before the lunch that was described as "very constructive and friendly."
"We have a number of issues and we are willing to find practical and pragmatic solutions to all those issues and that is the message President Zardari and I would wish to convey," said Prime Minister Singh.
In response, Zardari, who hoped to meet the Indian leader on Pakistani soil very soon, said, "We have had very fruitful bilateral talks."
Zardari was on his first visit to India, since taking office as head of state in 2008. While on his visit, he also offered prayers at the 13th century shrine of revered Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Rajasthan along with his son, Bilawal. He last visited the shrine in 2005 with his late wife Benazir Bhutto.
The Pakistani president's visit was the first to take place by a Pakistani head of state since 2005, when then president Pervez Musharraf set off for New Delhi to watch a Pakistan play India in cricket. Zardari's visit, too, was intended to be a "private" one.
"There are several takeaways from this meeting. Using a private visit, Zardari has focused on a niche area where he has reached out to the moderate constituency considering that anti-Americanism and extreme Islamism runs high in Pakistan," Swaran Singh, a professor of international relations at Jawaharalal Nehru University told DW.
"He has held out a hand of friendship while at the same time propping up his son, Bilawal, who is being groomed to assume the leadership of Pakistan People's Party," Singh added.
26/11 Mumbai attacks
In a closed-door meeting without any aides, Manmohan Singh made it clear, despite the bonhomie, that Pakistan would have to take considerable steps to counter terrorism before any peace could come about. He said Pakistan would be tested by its actions against the perpetrators of the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, which were allegedly planned in Pakistan and carried out by Pakistani nationals.
He specifically referred to Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, who had a $10 million-dollar (7.6 million-euro) bounty placed on his head by the US last week. Saeed, 62, who moves around freely in Pakistan and is appreciated by many for his charity work there, is accused of masterminding the Mumbai attacks.
According to Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, the Indian prime minister brought up the issue, not only to demand that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks be brought to justice, but also so "activities aimed against India from Pakistani soil" could be prevented.
Trade - a catalyst to improve ties
The last two years have seen a gradual improvement in Indo-Pak ties. The decrease in cross-border attacks in the conflict-torn Kashmir region and Zardari's bold liberalization of Pakistan's trade policy towards its neighbor have set the tone for the Pakistani president's visit.
Trade between India and Pakistan currently stands at 2.7 billion US dollars, while indirect trade through third countries is estimated to be much higher. In addition, Pakistan has pledged to confer most favored nation (MFN) trading status on India to boost business further.
During the luncheon meeting Zardari went as far as suggesting that the two countries agree to an "India-China template" for carrying their relationship forward.
"The idea is if both sides move forward on trade than other disputes like the vexatious border disagreement will be easier to solve. While this is a bold proposal, both sides must show greater political will to solve outstanding issues," political analyst Manish Kumar told DW.
Political observers feel that Zardari's visit has been a start in rebuilding ties after the 2008 Mumbai attacks sent the bilateral peace process into a nosedive. Yet if ties are really to improve, the two need to address issues that have divided them for more than six decades.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning