Leaders Who Lunch: Zardari and Singh Meet in New Delhi

The Indian and Pakistan flags at the famous Wagah Border. (Photo: Jack Zalium/Creative Commons)

The Indian and Pakistan flags at the famous Wagah Border. (Photo: Jack Zalium/Creative Commons)

Perhaps it was the sight of their chefs collaborating in the kitchen that inspired the heads of two perpetually-clashing states to step into the heat of the international spotlight for a quick luncheon. Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Sunday in New Delhi for a symbolic conciliatory visit, marking the first time since 2005 that the leaders met in one of their respective nations.

With India and China racing to dominate the global economic marketplace, Pakistan’s leader sought to improve relations with his nation’s neighbor, as well as to build investment and trade links after last year’s bilateral approval of the Most Favored Nation agreement that lowered taxes on trade between the two. The $2.6 billion two-way trade was offered by Indian leadership to Pakistan in 1996; however, the fact that the trade heavily favored the proposing nation stalled its acceptance until this recent accord.

This week’s working lunch was productive, with both nations agreeing to ease tough regulations on tourist visas and with P.M. Singh’s government offering condolences and help to Pakistan after an avalanche this weekend buried more than 130 people and left thousands homeless in the mountains of Kashmir. Zardari’s “private trip” was said to be a four-fold mission with a focus on showing goodwill rather than the topics of Kashmir, militant outlaws, the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, and the possibility of expanding trade between the two nations.

Still, both leaders downplayed any real significance of the meeting, which concluded with Zardari’s visit to a religious landmark, where he contributed $1 million as a charitable donation. Considering President Zardari’s waning popularity (his infamous nickname “Mr. 10%” still follows him from the time of his late wife’s rule), and Prime Minister Singh’s current corruption crack-down on his own political party, the two leaders are looking for a silver lining in the cloud that hovers over both their administrations.

Ever the optimist, Zardari said, “We had fruitful bilateral talks. We hope to meet on Pakistani soil very soon.”

“[They] realize the economy’s in shambles and that you can’t have a genuine defense without a good economy,” retired Pakistani General Talat Masood added, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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Do you think increased trade and the easing of visa restrictions will lead to lasting peace in the region?

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Sabeen H. Ahmad is the Social Media Editor at Divanee.com.