New Delhi, Nov. 23(NNN): Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz arrived here on Tuesday on a two-day visit, the first Premier ofneighbouring country to visit the Capital in 13 years, amid hopes of bolstering bilateral relations with India.
Although Aziz is here as the Chairperson of seven-nation South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (Saarc), the focus was predictably on the Indo-Pak equation.
And since recent statements on both sides have raised the pitch, Aziz's first task was to ensure that the composite dialogue between the two sides is back on track.
"Both sides felt that the composite dialogue should continue to move forward and agreed to work for increased cooperation between India and Pakistan," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said.
Aziz's visit comes ahead of a series of official-level meetings lined up by the two countries in the next two months that includes discussion on the proposed bus link between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Khokrapar-Munnabao rail link connecting Rajasthan and Sindh.
The Pakistani Prime Minister's first meetings with External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and senior BJP leaders Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lalkishnechand Advani shows that Aziz is looking for a wider political consensus on the Indo-Pakistan dialogue.
"It was a very good meeting, a very cordial meeting and he reiterated the Pakistani government's invitation for me to visit Pakistan. I will probably go after the winter session," BJP leader LK Advani said.
On Wednesday, the two Prime Ministers will have a working lunch and after the rhetoric of recent weeks, the hope is that a one on one meeting will bring the dialogue process back on track.
Aziz, on his first visit to India after he assumed office, is heading a high-level delegation comprising Ministers for Petroleum, Railways, Water and Power besides Ministers of State for Foreign Affairs, Overseas Pakistanis and Culture, Sports and Youth.
Ahead of the visit, New Delhi said it was always hopeful that all such interaction will improve bilateral relations.
Aziz said he was optimistic that the visit would help improve the atmosphere.
Earlier, the Pakistan Premier told reporters in Colombo that he expected substantive dialogue on all bilateral relations, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, in his talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which is scheduled for Wednesday.
Coming as SAARC Chairman, Aziz will extend formal invitation to Singh to attend the SAARC Summit in Dhaka in January. Bangladesh will take over the SAARC chairmanship at the Dhaka Summit.
Aziz, who took office in August, is touring South Asian capitals as head of the regional Saarc grouping. The main focus is his Delhi trip, which comes as India and Pakistan hold talks on the long-running Kashmir dispute.
Earlier speaking to the BBC on Monday, Aziz was upbeat and said he hoped his trip would give dialogue fresh momentum. "I think we are substantially ahead of where we were 12 months ago, but there's a long road ahead of us and we must address various issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
Aziz was speaking from Sri Lanka, where he held talks with President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse on economic co-operation and trade.
He then headed to the Maldives en route for Delhi.
Last week, India began a limited withdrawal of troops stationed in the disputed state to coincide with a visit by Prime Minister Singh.
However, the Indian Premier rejected a proposal by Pakistan President Musharraf to consider redrawing the borders in Kashmir, which both countries claim. His comments received a cool reception in Islamabad.