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Zardari to invite Manmohan to Pak

Islamabad: President Asif Ali Zardari will invite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan by the end of this year during his meeting in New Delhi tomorrow. This was stated by Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit on the eve of Zardari`s day-long visit to India during which he will hold talks with Singh at the PM`s Race Course Road residence which will be followed by lunch. "President Zardari will invite Prime Minister Singh to visit Pakistan by the end of this year," Basit said.

While the Pakistani leadership has extended the invitation to Prime Minister earlier, this would be first time that a time-frame has been proposed for the summit meeting. On his part, Singh has accepted the invitation earlier but has made it clear that he would undertake the visit only if there is likelihood of a substantive outcome.

Singh had reiterated this on his way back from the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul last month when he told reporters that he would visit Pakistan provided there is "something to celebrate".

Describing Zardari`s visit to India as "important", Basit however said that there was "no agenda" though the two leaders are expected to discuss all bilateral issues and the regional situation.

"As far as the talks are concerned, there is no agenda and it is not a structured dialogue," he said adding "But when the two leaders meet, bilateral issues between Pakistan and India and the regional situation will be discussed."

Zardari will be the first Pakistani head of state to visit India since 2005, when the then military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, had travelled to New Delhi for talks with the Indian leadership.

Pakistan has billed Zardari`s trip as a "private visit" aimed at fulfilling a long-standing desire to offer prayers at the famous 13th century Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer in Rajasthan. Zardari has visited the shrine in the past with his slain wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto.

The President would would be accompanied by his 23-year-old son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the nominal chief of the ruling Pakistan People`s Party besides others. There was no official word on the composition of the delegation that will accompany the President though officials said it would be small.

Basit said he had no information on whether Bilawal would meet Rahul Gandhi.
"I have no knowledge of a meeting between Bilawal and Rahul Gandhi as this is a brief visit. The stopover in New Delhi will be brief as the real objective is to go to Ajmer."

Basit underlined that "The basic objective of the President`s visit is to pay obeisance at the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharif." He acknowledged that the visit was "important" as the two countries were currently engaged in the second round of the dialogue process that began last year after a gap of over two years in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

"We expect this round (of the dialogue) to be completed in June-July. After that, the Indian foreign minister is to visit Pakistan to review the process," Basit said.
The visit is also important because Pakistan expects it will "help translate the President`s vision of regional cooperation and connectivity" into reality, he added.

India and Pakistan have taken some steps to normalise relations since they resumed their peace process last year, especially in the field of trade. Pakistan recently switched over to a negative list regime for trade, paving the way for giving India Most Favoured Nation-status by the beginning of next year. The two sides plan to boost trade from the current level of two billion dollars a year to six billion dollars by 2014.

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