An informal meeting between Pakistan's president and the Indian prime minister didn't resolve the toughest issues between the nuclear rivals, but it does mark another sign of thawing bilateral relations.
For Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, the visit to Ajmer Sharif in India last week (April 8th) was mainly a personal journey. He came to seek the blessings of Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti, a 13th-century Sufi saint.
His dargah, or shrine, draws millions of Hindu and Muslim devotees annually from all over South Asia.
Given recent efforts to defuse the long-running animosity between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, however, it came as no surprise to observers when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seized the opportunity of meeting the Pakistani leader, extending an invitation to Zardari to have lunch with him in Delhi on his way to Ajmer.
Zardari gladly accepted the invitation and the two leaders met. The focus of their talks was primarily on achieving new targets in trade and people-to-people ties.
]The way forward, Pakistan High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik told Khabar South Asia, will be decided at a meeting of top officials of the respective home ministries on May 22nd.
"We're now talking of a liberalised visa regime, easing of non-tariff barriers on trade in more goods and co-operation in unprecedented areas," Malik said.
The first easy-to-use land border check post to facilitate smoother movement of traded goods will be inaugurated at the Attari-Wagah border in Punjab later this week by Home Minister P. Chidambaram.
Indians and Pakistanis are separated by some of the toughest visa regulations in the world. But now they are close to agreeing on multi-entry visas requiring zero reporting.
"In the first stage this system would govern businesspersons from the two countries. They will be issued multi-entry visas valid for a year without the reporting requirement," Malik told Khabar. "Gradually this will be extended to other categories of citizens."
The new attitude, according to Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, is reflective of a desire by both sides to build bilateral trade, which is frozen at around $2.5 billion annually.
"India is yet to get Most-Favoured-Nation status from Pakistan, which is expected to happen soon, and that would lead to greater flow of goods and services," Mathai told reporters.
The Singh-Zardari meeting comes amid a succession of diplomatic moves by the two neighbours that have raised hopes that the ice may be thawing.
"The prime minister's gesture of offering assistance to Pakistan in its search for its soldiers trapped in an avalanche in the Siachen Glacier of the Himalayas was a great breakthrough, particularly because our armies are supposed to be fighting for control of those heights," Malik said. Meanwhile, India has agreed to release 80-year-old Pakistani scientist Mohammad Khalil Chisti, who was given a life sentence for murder.
While issuing the order, Justice P. Sathasivam said: "Let us hope that whatever happened [to improve ties] will continue. From what we read in today's newspapers, good things are happening."
The two leaders surprised many observers by broaching the contentious issue of cross-border terrorism – particularly Pakistan's alleged support for the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, in which over 160 people died.
"India would continue to judge the bilateral relationship by Pakistan's progress on resolving India's expectations on justice for the 26/11 massacre," Foreign Secretary Mathai said. "In this context, the Prime Minister mentioned the activities of Hafiz Saeed under media and public gaze in Pakistan despite our requests for his arrest and trial."
The Kashmir issue did not significantly figure in the discourse this time. The reduction of cross-border terrorism, manifested in the drop in the number of militants crossing into Indian Kashmir, is believed to be a catalyst in reviving the stalled peace process, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Satinder Lambah told Khabar.
Despite lingering distrust over the thorniest issues, there are clear signs of a weather change in bilateral ties, analysts say.
"India is beginning to recognise the new Pakistani thinking represented by Mr. Zardari," he said.