ISLAMABAD - The recent visit to India by President Asif Ali Zardari was not a “private” one as declared by the Pakistani government, but it was by all means an important official trip aimed at giving thrust from the top-level to the ‘sluggish’ pace of Indo-Pak peace process, and was made possible with the US’ role as ‘facilitator’, which believes that normal ties between the archrival nuclear neighbours are vital for the success of Afghan endgame.
Apart from the US’ desire and its active role that it played for Zardari’s visit to New Delhi in the face of India’s reluctance, which does not see the environment conducive for the Pakistani leader’s visit, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led coalition government had also made hectic diplomatic efforts for this trip. The task of arranging the president’s visit was assigned to the Foreign Office back in September 2010, but its efforts could not succeed due to India’s position that the environment in India in the wake of 2008 Mumbai attacks was not free of hostility towards Islamabad.
Diplomatic sources privy to ‘behind the scene’ efforts by Islamabad and Washington for Zardari’s visit revealed that Interior Minister Rehman Malik also used his friendly ties with some key Indian ministers for persuading the Congress-led government in New Delhi to host President Zardari, but that too proved to be a futile attempt. “It was American intervention that proved successful and the Indian authorities finally expressed their willingness to receive the Pakistani president in New Delhi and also arrange a meeting between the visiting leader and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” said a diplomatic source requesting anonymity on Wednesday. The Obama administration is eager for successful peace talks with the Taliban started recently in Qatar, but it also believes that without Pakistan’s support the success of Doha talks is not possible.
The US policy makers know that Pakistan has strong concerns about the India’s role in Afghanistan and unless there are normal ties between Islamabad and New Delhi, or any movement towards that, they feel that the Pakistani leadership will not be of any great help for the US in peace talks with the Taliban. “Hence, the Obama administration decided to play its role for top-level talks between Pakistan and India and facilitate a meaningful dialogue between the South Asian neighbours, but in order to have fruitful talks and start a movement towards settlement of different bilateral issues, it was decided by all key players involved that President Zardari’s visit would be dubbed as a ‘private trip’ aimed at paying homage at Ajmer Sharif,” the source said.
Another source, who also sought anonymity, said the talks between President Zardari and Prime Minister Singh were satisfactory and both sides decided to speed up the dialogue process and especially go for more Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). “One reflection of that understanding is the visit of an Indian media delegation to Islamabad, which arrived Wednesday evening and in a rare development will be taken to Chakoti (Azad Kashmir) and also to Swat for a visit. This trip is part of CBMs to bring closer the media representatives from the two countries,” he said.
It was soon after Zardari’s visit to India that media reports surfaced about the removal of Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, reportedly due to her opposition to the president’s trip to India.
According to sources, some PPP leaders advised the president not to replace the current foreign minister as it could have political repercussions, as the general elections are only few months away. Hence it was decided that Khar would continue in her office. However, in a significant development, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Wednesday gave the status of Federal Minister to Sherry Rehman, the current Pakistani ambassador in US.