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Pakistan President visits India on low-profile trip


Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari was scheduled to visit India on a private trip today that also gives him a chance to meet Indian leaders amid a thaw in relations between the two South Asian rivals.

Zardari's visit, the first by a Pakistani head of state in seven years, is the most visible sign that the two countries have put behind them the enmity that followed the 2008 terror attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai.

Zardari will meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before heading to the Ajmer Sharif shrine of a famous Sufi Muslim saint in India's western state of Rajasthan.

The two leaders will hold talks in private, with no aides present. Indian officials said all outstanding issues between the two sides would be discussed.

Singh is widely expected to raise India's concerns about security and insist that Pakistan show its seriousness about reining in terrorist groups that were behind the Mumbai attacks. India blamed the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group and demanded that Islamabad crack down on them.

Earlier this week, United States slapped a $10 million bounty on Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the group's founder, who operates openly in Pakistan.

India is expected to press Pakistan to act against Saeed, seen as the mastermind of the 2008 attack when 10 Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people across India's financial capital.

Zardari's visit comes a day after a massive avalanche in Pakistan when a wall of snow buried around 135 Pakistani soldiers near the Siachen glacier in the high Himalayas.

The two leaders are likely to dwell on the situation in Siachen, often described as the world's highest battlefield. India and Pakistan have stationed thousands of troops in the icy reaches of Siachen, the control of which remains a simmering dispute between the two neighbors.

Although no major breakthrough was expected during Sunday's meeting, analysts say the meeting would help keep up the momentum of a dialogue process between India and Pakistan that was kicked off last year.

“The two leaders will express their commitment to the peace process, but it's unlikely that any major breakthrough will come about,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based defense analyst.

Trade between the two countries has jumped in recent years. Pakistan recently announced that it was lifting trade restrictions on India and the two countries are working on easing visa restrictions on the business community.

But both sides remained far from resolving their conflict over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since the partition of the subcontinent on independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars have been over Kashmir.

Zardari will be accompanied by around 25 members of his family, including his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who has been anointed as his political heir.

Every day, thousands of believers visit the shrine of Sufi saint Moinudin Chishti in Ajmer, 350 kilometers (220 miles) southwest of Delhi.