Plans are under way for President Asif Ali Zardari to make a brief visit to India in the coming week. While the request is for a private visit to the Ajmer Dargah Sharif, the occasion provides an important opportunity for political interaction at the highest level between Pakistan and India.
The Pakistani request, which came earlier this week, spoke of a daylong visit, likely on April 8, during which Zardari would arrive at the nearest airport, visit the shrine and return the same day. Zardari being President of Pakistan, the Indian government is learnt to be looking at the possibility of converting the trip into a state visit, a report in Indian Express newspaper said Sunday.
While New Delhi may be open to adding political colour to the visit, signals from Islamabad have been to keep it less ceremonial and political. But both formal and informal channels are open and, as it happens often in the India-Pakistan relationship, many decisions are likely to be taken closer to the event.
Zardari last met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009 on the margins of the SCO Summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, months after the 26/11 attacks. Last year, Singh extended invitations to both Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to visit India for the World Cup match in Mohali.
Zardari's trip will come against a favourable backdrop. India and Pakistan have put the dialogue process back on track and Pakistan has surprised India with some tough political decisions to improve economic ties. Recently, Pakistan allowed Indian wheat to pass through its territory to Afghanistan. Islamabad has been pushing for political outcomes and, in this context, wanted the backc-hannel conversation to resume. Gilani made the request in Mohali, which was subsequently followed up by his foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
Zardari's visit, if it works out, would come days after Gilani asked Singh in Seoul to visit Pakistan, and Singh said the two sides should work out "something solid" to make the visit substantive.