Pakistan PM arrives in India to 'open arms' welcome

Pakistan's premier Raja Pervez Ashraf visited India on Saturday to make a brief 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 -- came 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, who hosted a lunch for Ashraf at the Rambagh Palace, a luxury heritage hotel in the tourist city of Jaipur in north western India.

After the lunch, the Indian foreign minister said the "issue of terrorism was not discussed" with Pakistan's prime minister.

"This was not the occasion nor did I have the authority to discuss issues like terrorism with Pakistan," Khurshid added.

On Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told parliament ties between the South Asian neighbours could improve only if Pakistan shunned its alleged support to "the terror machine" of cross-border militancy.

Pakistan, which has fought three wars with India since independence from Britain in 1947, rejects New Delhi's charges it supports militant attacks on Indian soil.

A senior Indian foreign ministry official told AFP earlier there would be no "substantive talks" between the Pakistani prime minister and Khurshid and said India was "just extending our hospitality" by hosting the lunch.

Ashraf was 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 ingh.S

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.

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

Khan said on Friday he would refuse to assist Ashraf during the prayers.

"I expected the Pakistan prime minister to bring back the head of the Indian martyr, tender an apology to the people of India and the family of the soldier," Khan said.

However, his decision would not affect the Pakistani premier's visit because other shrine members would assist Ashraf, officials at the religious site said.

Ajmer Bar Association President Rajesh Tandon also called the visit "intolerable" because of the soldier's beheading and said lawyers would "symbolically cleanse" the road on which the Pakistani leader travelled to mark their protest.