NEW DELHI: Expectations have been deliberately kept low for Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s tête-a-tête with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday afternoon.
Officials on both sides of the border have been at pains to give the impression that the meeting of the two leaders is more of a sidelight to the pilgrimage of Zardari to Sheikh Moinuddin Chisti’s Ajmer shrine, hoping to give them the space to talk substantial issues.
Both countries have been preparing for the visit after the date was confirmed about 10 days ago. Zardari will be arriving here on Sunday on a special plane along with a 40-member delegation, including his son, 23-year-old Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, interior minister Rehman Malik, senior party officials and a large media contingent.
New Pakistan foreign secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani may also be a part of the delegation. He was thrown out of India when he was the Deputy High Commissioner in 2003 on allegations of providing funds to Kashmiri terrorists. The one-on-one meeting behind closed doors at 7 Race Course Road will be a crucial one, with all bilateral issues to be on the table - from trade, movement of people, Sir Creek to Kashmir. Reaching an agreement on Siachen will certainly be on both leaders’ mind, especially a day after an avalanche trapped over 100 Pakistani soldiers.
Pakistan’s action, or inaction, on punishing the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks will certainly be taken up by the PM, according to sources.
The continuing failure of the Pakistani government to prosecute Hafiz Saeed could be discussed, with the US putting a bounty of $10 million on the Jamaat ud-Dawa leader earlier this week. Zardari, however, said he did not expect the Saeed case to be the mainstay of talks on Sunday. “My stance on Saeed is not different from that of my government. My visit to India is of a religious nature and I do not think Manmohan Singh will make me sit (and discuss only) this issue,” Zardari told reporters at the Governor’s House in Lahore. In Islamabad, the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit said the talks were not a ‘structured dialogue’.
“But when the two leaders meet, bilateral issues between Pakistan and India and the regional situation will be discussed,” he said.