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Pakistan’s Zardari to make ‘personal’ visit to India

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – President Asif Ali Zardari is expected soon to make the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state since 2005, with relations between the nuclear-armed rivals at their warmest in years.

Zardari’s spokesman said on Sunday that the visit would be personal but held out the possibility that it could be official. Indian media quoted government sources there as saying they hoped there would be formal talks.

‘It has been on the cards, and now it is confirmed,’ spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Reuters.

‘It was supposed to be a private visit. But what it turns out (to be) finally, whether private, official, or private (and) official has yet to be confirmed,’ he added.

Lasting Pakistan-India peace is seen as vital to South Asian stability and to smoothing a dangerous transition in Afghanistan as most NATO combat forces prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014.

The atmosphere between the two has improved after a flurry of high-level meetings and Pakistan’s recent promise to award its neighbour most favoured nation trade status.

Zardari is expected to visit a shrine to a revered Sufi saint in the Indian city of Ajmer.

Indian newspapers, citing government sources, said that Indian officials were making efforts to hold political discussions during the visit.

In November, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh met in the Maldives and promised to open a new chapter in their troubled history.

Distrust, border clashes and militant attacks have de-stabilised the region since the two nations were carved out of colonial India in 1947, with the disputed region of Kashmir at the heart of tensions.

They fought three all-out wars since independence from the British and their border still bristles with soldiers.

(Reporting by Sheree Sardar; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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