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Indian and Pakistan leaders discuss peace

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Zardari,left, meets Singh in New Delhi during the first such visit by a Pakistani head of state in seven yearsThe leaders of India and Pakistan have held talks in New Delhi at the highest-level meeting on each other's soil in seven years.

Without giving details, Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, and Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistan president, said after a 40-minute meeting on Sunday that they discussed a wide range of issues during a "fruitful" meeting before sharing lunch.

"Relations between India and Pakistan should become normal. That's our common desire," Singh said as the two men emerged from his residence in the Indian capital.

Trade is one area of discussion that the two leaders may find fruitful as Pakistan moves to normalise trade ties by phasing out major restrictions on Indian imports by the end of the year.

For his part, Zardari said: "We would like to have better relations with India. We have spoken on all topics that we could have spoken about and we are hoping to meet on Pakistani soil very soon."

During their meeting, Singh also told Zardari that it was "imperative to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice and prevent activities aimed against India from Pakistani soil'', according to Ranjan Mathai, the Indian foreign secretary.

The two countries came to the brink of conflict most recently in 2001, and tensions again peaked after the 2008 Mumbai attacks during which 164 people died in carnage blamed on the Pakistani armed group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

A US bounty of $10m on the Pakistan-based Hafiz Saeed, accused of masterminding the attacks, has renewed calls for his arrest..

Ajmer pilgrimage

Zardari later left for to an important Sufi Muslim shrine in Ajmer, in Rajasthan state, to offer prayers, from where he was due to return to Islamabad, the Pakistan capital, in the evening.

On his first visit to India as part of the 40-member delegation, Zardari's son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, stood behind the leaders at the media briefing.

Tariq Pirzada, a Pakistan-based analyst and columnist, says Zardari's trip is being portrayed as pilgrimage.

“But in reality, he is going [to India] as the commander-in-chief of Pakistan and New Delhi is laying out the carpet," he said.

India was keen on giving Zardari a warm welcome for several reasons, Pirzada said.

“After he [Zardari] was elected, he is the one who said we need to freeze the issue of Kashmir for a generation," he said.

"He is also the proponent of 'no first nuclear strike' against India, contrary to the official position of Pakistan. And he has granted the status of most favourable nation to india."

In 1996, India granted Pakistan "most preferred nation" trading status, while Pakistan last year agreed in principle to match the move.

The last Pakistan president to visit India was Pervez Musharraf, who also offered prayers at the shrine of the Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, in Ajmer, 350km southwest of Delhi.

The shrine is one of South Asia's most popular pilgrimage sites, attracting throngs of devotees from across the globe.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947 and also carried out tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998.


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