Ashok Tuteja, Tribune News Service
Jaipur, March 9. Amid the chill in India-Pakistan ties, Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf today offered prayers at the famous Sufi shrine at Ajmer but New Delhi refused to hold substantive talks with him to express its anger over the recent killing and beheading of Indian soldiers and Pakistan’s continued support to terrorism emanating from its soil against India.
With the BJP upping the ante against the visit, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who hosted a lunch in honour of the Pakistani Premier and his nearly 50-strong delegation at Hotel Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, was at pains to emphasise that the visiting dignitary had only been extended normal diplomatic courtesies which he is entitled to.
Even as several groups of people protested outside the hotel demanding an apology for the killing of the Indian jawans by Pakistani troops, the Pakistani leader and his delegation were received at the Jaipur International Airport by senior Rajasthan Government officials. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot stayed away from all engagements of the visiting dignitary.
In Ajmer too, the usual fanfare associated with such visits was missing as the spiritual head of the historic ‘dargah’ boycotted the Pakistani Premier as a mark of protests against the soldiers’ killing.
The message to Islamabad was loud and clear: it can’t be business-as-usual until Islamabad addresses India’s concern over terrorism.
After Ashraf was accorded a somewhat subdued traditional Rajasthani welcome, he and Khurshid posed for photographers before heading for the lunch. Khurshid appeared calm and expressionless while Ashraf, wearing a black ‘bandgala’ suit, looked quite cheerful. As they shook hands, Khurshid remarked, “just when ‘Khwaja’ wants you to come, then everything works for you to be able to come.” In response, the Pakistani leader looked towards the sky and said, “Inshallah.”
Seated on the high table at lunch from the Pakistan side were the Premier himself, his wife, his son, Pakistan High Commissioner Salman Bashir and two officials.
From the Indian side, Khurshid was given company by four senior officials of his ministry, including MEA spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.
Asked what the two delegations discussed during the 75-minute luncheon meeting, one official said the focus was on subjects like the composite cultures of the two countries, commonalities between them and the importance of spirituality. “There was absolutely no discussion on bilateral issues…the meeting followed the script explained by us during the past few days,” he added.
The official said though the mood at the lunch was quite somber, the Pakistani visitors time and again praised the mouth-watering Rajasthani delicacies laid out for them.
After the lunch, the Pakistani Premier and his delegation, primarily comprising members of his extended family, left for Ajmer in three Indian helicopters and Khurshid took off for Delhi.
Before leaving, the Indian minister briefly addressed the media and explained why India hosted lunch for the Pakistani Premier though the latter was on a private visit.