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Pakistani President Zardari In India For Landmark Visit

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (right) shakes hands with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari during a meeting in New Delhi on April 8.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (right) shakes hands with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari during a meeting in New Delhi on April 8.
NEW DELHI – Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have agreed in talks that the two neighboring countries should adopt a step-by-step approach to resolve their differences.

The two leaders said their meeting was friendly and constructive.

Singh said he had accepted an invitation from Zardari to visit Pakistan.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is in India for an unofficial trip, the first time a Pakistani head of state has visited there in over seven years.

Zardari met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with whom he had lunch before heading to a famous Muslim shrine in Rajasthan to offer prayers.

Although Pakistani and Indian officials describe Zardari's trip as a "private" visit, his trip to India for the first time since 2005 has raised hopes of a breakthrough in strained relations.

Veteran Indian journalist Prem Shankar Jha maintains that relations between the two countries have been gradually improving since peace talks were derailed after terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, which killed nearly 200 people.

"I think the things are moving in such a way that both Pakistan and India are actually moving rapidly towards a normal relationship," he said. "And the purpose of the visit is to prepare the ground and eventually, there will be a visit possibly by Manmohan Singh to Islamabad, which will be intended to put the seal; a formal stamp, on the relationship that is going to emerge."

'Neither Expectations Nor Disappointment'

Tarun Vijay, spokesman for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, however, is not reading too much into the visit.

"We shall neither have any expectations nor disappointment because this is his [Zardari's] personal visit," he said. "He is coming to offer prayers, as his own position in Pakistan is not good, He is also involved in many issues and troubles and to get rid of those problems, he is coming to India."

Vijay added that India would "officially welcome" Zardari as "president of our neighboring country."

India and Pakistan have been working to boost economic ties of late. Zardari recently backed the lifting of trade restrictions on India, and Pakistan is also talking of dropping a restrictive list of what products it will buy from India.

But tensions remain over more sensitive issues such as the disputed Kashmir region and Pakistani militant activity against India.

This week, the United States offered a $10 million bounty for Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e Taiba, which India blames for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

But calls from India to hand over Saeed have again been refused in Pakistan, which has asked to see evidence for the allegations.

Observers are pessimistic about any progress on these issues during Zardari's visit.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

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