Pakistani president’s visit to India hailed for symbolism

  • Sun Apr 8th, 2012 8:40pm
  • News

Los Angeles Times

NEW DELHI — Pakistan’s president arrived in India on Sunday, the first official visit one leader of the wary neighbors has paid to the other nation in seven years. No breakthroughs were announced, but both sides said the meeting was a sign of easing tensions along one of the world’s most dangerous borders.

Spin doctors on both sides worked overtime to lower public expectations of the “private” visit during which Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discussed the 2008 terrorist attack on the Indian city of Mumbai, modest if expanding trade links, the disputed territory of Kashmir and efforts to bring various militants to justice.

Zardari then visited a famous Muslim shrine for Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, and offered a $1 million contribution.

“I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit,” Singh said. “The relations between India and Pakistan should become normal — that is our common desire.”

The meeting was part of an apparent effort to follow the diplomatic model in place between India and China, which fought a war in 1962 over their disputed border: Put aside the most nettlesome issues for the time being and focus on building investment and trade links that benefit both sides.

India and Pakistan this year approved a most-favored-nation agreement, lowering taxes that impede trade. Although India had offered the designation to Pakistan in 1996, it wasn’t reciprocated until recently. Official two-way trade of about $2.6 billion is heavily weighted in India’s favor.

Sunday’s visit was heavy on symbolism if not on substance. Zardari invited Singh for a reciprocal visit to Pakistan, which the Indian leader accepted, although no date was set. Zardari’s 23-year-old son, Bilawal, invited ruling Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to Pakistan, which was also accepted, again with no date set.

On other fronts, both sides agreed in principle to ease visa restrictions. India offered its assistance after the weekend’s avalanche in the Siachen Glacier area, which buried about 130 people on Pakistan’s side of the disputed Kashmir border. And the two sides did lots of glad-handing for the cameras.

“We had fruitful bilateral talks,” Zardari said. We “hope to meet on Pakistani soil very soon.”

But any attempt to bring to justice those who planned the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed at least 166 people was sidestepped. India has long blamed Pakistan-based groups for plotting the attack.

Last week, the United States offered a $10-million reward for information leading to the capture of one Pakistani militant leader, Hafiz Saeed, who enjoys widespread support in Pakistan.