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PM Singh likely to visit Pakistan in November

July 28, 2012 11:36 IST
Manmohan Singh will be the first Indian PM to travel to Islamabad since 2004. Amir Mir reports

With a formal invitation extended by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is most likely to visit Pakistan in November amidst signs of improved ties between the two nuclear-armed nations, according to reports in the Pakistan media.

Dr Singh will be the first Indian PM to travel to Islamabad since 2004 when the then Indian premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee held ice-breaking talks with the then Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistan's leading English and Urdu newspapers have reported on Saturday while citing diplomatic sources that Islamabad and Delhi are finalising the dates for Dr Singh's maiden trip to Pakistan. In continuation of his previous invitation extended to Dr Singh during his Ajmer visit in April, Zardari formally invited Dr Singh to visit the country through a letter sent on Friday through Pakistan's mission in New Delhi.

The development was confirmed by presidential spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar, who further hinted that Dr Singh might visit Pakistan in November 2012.

Diplomatic circles in Islamabad say Zardari's India visit was actually facilitated by the United States, which wants to see both the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours indulge in a meaningful dialogue for peace. Washington believes this is vital for the success of the Afghan endgame.

Despite being declared a private trip by the Pakistan government, Zardari's visit to India was indeed an official tour by all means, which was aimed at giving thrust from the top-level to the lethargic tempo of Indo-Pak peace process.

Sources say American policymakers know that the Pakistani security establishment has strong concerns about India's growing role in Afghanistan and unless there are normal ties between Islamabad and Delhi, or any progress towards that, the Pakistani civilian leadership won't be in a position to extend its helping hand to the US with full sincerity to make the peace talks with the Afghan Taliban a real success. Therefore, the ongoing diplomatic overtures between India and Pakistan are being encouraged by the Obama administration

In his invitation letter to Dr Singh, President Zardari has wrote, "It gives me great pleasure to extend Your Excellency a cordial invitation to visit Pakistan. We could use that occasion to arrange a visit to your ancestral hometown. If the visit were to coincide with the birthday celebrations of Baba Guru Nanak Sahib that would not only be well received by the Pakistani nation but also reinforce our mutual desire to promote inter-faith and inter-religious harmony."

The birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion, will be observed on November 28. Gah in Pakistan's Punjab province is Dr Singh's birthplace.   

Zardari, in his invitation letter, also recalled his meeting with the PM in New Delhi during his April visit and expressed satisfaction over the headway made so far in the dialogue process. He has further expressed hope in his letter that India-Pakistan engagements will help promote bilateral ties in the right direction and help in realising their shared dream of a peaceful and prosperous South Asia.

The Indian government has so far been linking the acceptance of Pakistani invitation to action against terrorist groups targeting India and expeditious prosecution of the Mumbai attack accused.

Earlier this month, Dr Singh himself announced that he was ready for a visit to Pakistan, in anticipation that the move would prove fruitful for ties between both the nations. His likely visit would signal a visible thaw in Pakistan-India relations, which deteriorated after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, allegedly carried out by a Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

The two countries have also decided recently to revive their bilateral cricket ties with the Pakistani team visiting India for one-day and T20 matches in the first such series in five years. Foreign ministers of both countries are due to meet in September to review the progress made so far in the resumed peace process.

Amir Mir in Islamabad