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Apr 08, 2012 at 10:26am IST

Asif Ali Zardari to meet Manmohan Singh; Hafiz Saeed not on meeting agenda

New Delhi: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's will be in New Delhi after which he will head to Ajmer's shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Zardari will reach Delhi by about 11 am with an entourage of over 40 people, which will include his son Bilawal and interior minister Rehman Malik.

Zardari would meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over a lavish lunch after which he will head to the Ajmer shrine. As far as talks are concerned, 26/11 will be one of the issues but Lashkar-e-Toiba founder and 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks plotter Hafiz Saeed will not be the main focus. Zardari is also expected to invite Singh to Pakistan.

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Zardari on Saturday said he did not expect the issue of Hafiz Saeed to be the focus of his meeting with Singh, amid growing pressure on Pakistan to prosecute the LeT founder for his role in the Mumbai attacks. "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 in a lighter vein at the Governor's House in Lahore.

Zardari, 56, was responding to questions on his meeting with Singh against the backdrop of a $10 million bounty offered by the US for information leading to Saeed's prosecution.

ALSO SEE Ask Pak to act against Saeed: BJP, Cong

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has already said in Parliament that the case of Saeed is an "internal issue" of Pakistan. Gilani further said that any evidence against Saeed should be provided to Pakistan so that it can be examined by the country's independent judiciary.

Tehreek-e-Insaaf Leader Shireen Mazari earlier said that the party is not objecting to Zardari's having lunch with Singh. "We just feel that if there is nothing totally private when these two leaders meet, specially when it's India and Pakistan. All we are saying is that the content of their meeting should be known and parliament should be informed of it. We are not saying he shouldn't go. We are raising certain issues surrounding the visit."

Mazari pointed that if Zardari's visit is private, is he paying for it or is the state paying for it. And the party also wants to know the contents of his discussions with Singh because they are not old buddies. So obviously they are meeting because he happens to be the president and Manmohan Singh happens to be the Prime Minister. So in that sense it has a certain official aura about it.

The Congress as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have, too, demanded that Singh ask for strict action against Hafiz Saeed when he meets Zardari. The BJP raised the stakes ahead of Zardari's India visit on Sunday by demanding that India should take up the twin issues of Hafiz Saeed and Sarabjit Singh with the Pakistani leader.

Congress, too, applied the pressure. Congress Spokesperson Rashid Alvi said, "Saeed must be handed over to India." National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah said, "If Indo-Pak relations are to improve, Hafiz Saeed should be handed over to the court."

Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha MP Rahul Gandhi, members of the Cabinet Committee on Security as well as opposition leaders LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj have been invited for Zardari's lunch with Manmohan Singh.

In Islamabad, Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said Zardari will invite Singh to visit Pakistan by the end of this year during their meeting in New Delhi. "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 the Indian Prime Minister earlier also, this would be the first time that a time-frame has been proposed for the summit meeting.

On his part, Singh has accepted the invitation earlier but made it clear that he would undertake the visit only if here is likelihood of a substantive outcome. On the Saeed issue, New Delhi has said that this can figure along with a host of other topics during the Singh-Zardari talks.

Pakistan on Friday rejected External Affairs Minister SM Krishna's assertion that India had provided adequate evidence linking Saeed to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba, that left 166 people dead.

The Foreign Office said India had not given "any solid and significant evidence" against Saeed. "There is nothing concrete and maintainable. From its own Mumbai trial experience, India knows well that hearsay cannot substitute for hard evidence," Basit said.

External Affairs Minister SM Krishna had said that "the dossier that the Home Minister has provided to the Pakistan government contains every detail of Saeed's involvement in the planning and execution of terrorist attack on Mumbai."So no amount of denial would exonerate them unless there is a judicial enquiry into the whole episode whereby responsibilities can be fixed but unfortunately Pakistan government has not thought it proper to investigate this."

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's top leadership has described Zardari's trip as a "private visit" aimed at fulfilling a long-standing desire to offer prayers at the famous 13th century Sufi shrine at Ajmer in Rajasthan. "The basic objective of the President's visit is to pay obeisance at the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharif," Basit said.

The meeting between Zardari and Singh has no agenda though the two leaders are expected to discuss all bilateral issues and the regional situation, Basit told the media.

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. "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.

Zardari's 47-member delegation would include his son Bilawal, interior minister Rehman Mallik and foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar and the two sides would also talk about progress in trade ties and the way forward on Kashmir.

Zardari and Singh would meet to discuss issues of constructive engagement and regional peace. Zardari had last visited the Sufi shrine with his late wife Benazir in 2005.

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