Lahore/Islamabad, Apr 7: On the eve of his India visit, President Asif Ali Zardari today said he did not expect the issue of Hafiz Saeed to be the focus of his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan 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.
56-year-old Zardari, who flies to India tomorrow for a luncheon meeting with Singh followed by a visit to Ajmer to pay obeisance at the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, has been camping in Lahore for the past few days.
He was responding to questions on his meeting with Singh against the backdrop of a USD 10 million bounty offered by the US for information leading to Saeed's prosecution.
Zardari is coming to Delhi with son Bilawal, both his daughters Asifa and Bakhtawar, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani and a large number of officials.
Zardari and Manmohan Singh will have one-on-one closed door talks before the lunch to be attended by Rahul Gandhi, A K Antony, Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram, with L K Advani and Sushma Swaraj on behalf of the BJP.
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.
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 there 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 yesterday rejected External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's assertion that India had provided adequate evidence linking Saeed to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, 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.
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.