New Delhi: It set to
be more than a photo-op as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gears up
to hold one-on-one talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari
before the two sit down for lunch at his official residence here
The two leaders will hold restricted talks before they sit down
for talks with their delegations, well-placed sources said.
Zardari, the sources said, will be coming with a 40-member strong
delegation that includes Interior Minister Rehman Malik, close
family members of the president and senior journalists.
The list of Zardari's delegation was conveyed to India's foreign
office only Wednesday afternoon.
The visit by Zardari, the husband of the slain former prime
minister Benazir Bhutto, has been described by both sides as
"private" as the 57-year-old president voiced his desire to offer
prayers at a revered sufi shrine in Ajmer.
But Manmohan Singh, who has invested much diplomatic capital in
turning around India's accident-prone relationship with Pakistan,
quickly seized on the opportunity to hold talks with the Pakistani
leader to push the revived sub-continental peace process.
The inclusion of Malik, the sole minister to be part of Zardari's
delegation, has fuelled speculation that the talks are going to be
more than a feel-good exercise and all issues, including
Pakistan's progress in prosecuting the 26/11 Mumbai terror
perpetrators, will be on the table.
In view of positive movements on trade since India and Pakistan
resumed their peace process last February, Indian officials have
been careful not to harp on terror this time around, but the issue
is expected to figure in the discussions given strong domestic
sensitivity over the slow pace of 26/11 justice.
The US announcement Monday of a $10 million bounty for 26/11
mastermind Hafiz Saeed has complicated the contours of the
forthcoming talks, with India upping the pressure on Islamabad
against the man widely seen as not only the architect of the
Mumbai terror carnage, but a virulently anti-India demagogue who
has been preaching jihad against New Delhi with impunity.
Home Minister P. C. Chidambaram treaded cautiously when he was
asked Monday whether the prime minister will take up the Hafiz
Saeed issue with Zardari.
"I don't know what the prime minister will discuss. He is coming
on a private visit to a religious place, so this may not be the
occasion," said Chidambaram.
He, however, added in the same
breath: "We will continue to raise the issue on every occasion."
Chidamabaram may hold talks with Malik and expect to be updated on
the progress in Pakistan's action against 26/11 terrorists and
(Manish Chand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)