The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, is keen to encourage what he hopes is the beginning of a change of the Pakistani mindset towards India-- at least in the political class if not in the Army. That is the message behind his decision to transform the planned religious pilgrimage of President Asif Ali Zardari to Ajmer into a soft political visit to add to the improving ambiance in bilateral relations.
According to present indications, President Zardari is expected to arrive by air in Delhi on April 8, have an early lunch with the PM, visit Ajmer and fly back to Islamabad from there. The programme is still tentative. There is unlikely to be any joint statement at the end of the lunch. It has not yet been decided whether there should be a joint interaction with the media.
Protocol demands that an important state personality should receive Mr Zardari on his arrival at Ajmer, accompany him to the Ajmer Sharif and see him off. It has not yet been decided whether this would be done by the Governor of Rajasthan or somebody from Delhi should go to Ajmer.
The visit will reflect the improving comfort level between the leaderships of the two countries as noticed during the brief interactions between Dr Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani of Pakistan in the margins of the recent nuclear security summit in Seoul.
The government of India has noted with interest the benign rhetoric in recent references of the Pakistani leadership towards India and the initiative taken by the Gilani government for breaking the issue of bilateral trade relations with India from being a hostage to the Kashmir issue.
More significantly, there has been no evidence of any involvement of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in any of the jihadi terrorist strikes that have taken place in different cities of India since the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. It is too early to assess whether there would be any change in the ISI’s proxy war against India under its new chief Lt Gen.Zahir-ul-Islam.
While reacting positively to Mr Zardari’s planned pilgrimage to Ajmer, one has to note with concern indications of a further strengthening of Pakistan’s relations with China as seen during the current visit of Mr.Gilani to China to attend a regional security forum.
The Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) has reported that Gilani and the Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who met on April 1 agreed to stand with each other “in all circumstances” and vowed to uphold their sovereignty and territorial integrity at all costs. Gilani was reported to have told the Chinese leader: “China’s friend is our friend and China’s enemy is our enemy.” The APP quoted the Chinese Vice-Premier as saying that China would also support Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in all situations. “No matter what changes take place at international level, we will uphold Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he reportedly said.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies