Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari will visit India on April 8 for lunch with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and for private prayers at a shrine, Islamabad announced Monday.
It will be the first visit by a Pakistani head of state to India since 2005 and comes as the nuclear-armed rivals make gradual progress towards normalising relations, dealt a major blow by the 2008 Mumbai attacks blamed on Pakistanis.
Zardari will make a "private visit for prayers" at the shrine of Sufi Muslim saint Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz in Ajmer Sharif, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.
He added: "The president has also accepted the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for lunch in New Delhi en route to Ajmer Sharif".
He will return to Islamabad the same day.
Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told AFP the visit would help build normal relations between the two neighbours, which he described as vital to peace in South Asia.
"President Zardari's meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will contribute towards translating the president's vision of inter-regional cooperation and harmony," he said.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947 and carried out tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998.
New Delhi froze peace talks with Islamabad after the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, and which India and the United States blamed on Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
But the slow-moving peace dialogue resumed early last year, with visits by officials.
The United States has quietly encouraged the process, hoping that an easing of tensions between Pakistan and India could facilitate a settlement in Afghanistan, where both countries have been accused of fighting a proxy war.
Pakistani political analyst Hasan Askari said Zardari's visit could play a key role to play in building trust.
"Informal meetings are equally important as there is no pressure during these meetings to produce results. Therefore, they can talk freely on the need to improve ties," he said.
Pakistan said in February it would phase out major restrictions on Indian imports by the end of the year in an effort to normalise trade relations.
"Both sides are favourably disposed towards improving trade and economic relations," Askari told AFP.
"The major Indian interest is normalisation of trade relations towards the end of this year. Informal meetings will be supportive of that process."
Zardari's visit comes just over a year after Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani accepted an invitation from Singh to watch their countries' teams in the cricket World Cup semi-final in India in March 2010, which India won.
Last month, Pakistani investigators also travelled to India to gather evidence for prosecuting seven Pakistani suspects linked to the Mumbai attacks.
New Delhi says Pakistan's attempts at prosecution have been a "facade" and insists it has already handed over enough evidence to convict the accused.© ANP/AFP