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Pakistan PM arrives in India to 'open arms' welcome

9 March AFP

Pakistan's premier Raja Pervez Ashraf arrived in India on Saturday for a pilgrimage to a revered Muslim shrine, with Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid welcoming him with "open arms".

Khurshid's warm welcome for Ashraf -- making his first visit to India as prime minister -- comes despite strained relations between the nuclear-armed rivals over recent border clashes.

"It's in our culture to welcome our guests with open arms," said Khurshid ahead of a lunch he will host for Ashraf at the Rambagh Palace, a luxury heritage hotel in the city of Jaipur in north western India.

Khurshid and Ashraf smiled and shook hands for television cameras before retreating behind closed doors for their lunch.

An Indian foreign ministry official told AFP there would be no "substantive talks" at the meeting.

"India is happy to host a lunch for the Pakistani prime minister. We are just extending our hospitality," the senior Indian foreign ministry official said.Ashraf is the most senior Pakistani to visit India since last April when President Asif Ali Zardari made a similar pilgrimage and had lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Ashraf and his family planned a day-long private trip to the 13th century shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz in Ajmer, 130 kilometres (80 miles) from Jaipur.

Tensions spiked between New Delhi and Islamabad in January and February as a total of six soldiers were killed in exchanges along the de facto border in Kashmir, a region claimed by both countries. Four of the soldiers killed were from Pakistan while two were from India.

One of the Indians was beheaded allegedly by Pakistanis.

India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947, accuses Islamabad of fomenting cross-border militancy a charge that the Islamic republic rejects.

But some Indians, including the symbolic spiritual head of the Ajmer shrine Zainul Abedin Ali Khan, objected to Ashraf's pilgrimage.

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