NEW DEHLI: Neighbouring ministers, it transpires, are gaffe-prone too. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to intervene on Thursday when External Affairs Minister SM Krishna stumbled over a reply in the upper house of parliament on the issue of the release of Pakistani national Dr Khalil Chishty.
Eighty-year-old Chishty, a virologist sentenced to life imprisonment last December, has been languishing in Ajmer jail in Rajasthan on a murder charge. When asked by an opposition MP from Bihar Shivanand Tiwari what the government of India was doing about Chishty’s release, Krishna said the onus was on the government of Pakistan to release him.
Krishna said that this ‘particular person’ was detained in Pakistan and it was a question to be considered by the government of that country on ‘humanitarian grounds.’
As appalled and confused MPs got up to stop Krishna, he went on: “Dr Chishty is more than 80 years old, is wheelchair bound and we are sure the Government of Pakistan would take a lenient view about the case.”
He added that India would take this issue up at the level of High Commissioners, before being slammed by opposition MPs that the minister was confused about the identity of the prisoner and had little idea about Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails.
Manmohan Singh eventually stepped in to save Krishna’s bacon. He explained that Chishty was serving a sentence in a prison in Rajasthan, that he has received a request for his release and had referred the matter to the Home Minister who was in touch with the Rajasthan government. He also said he would report further developments to the house.
This is not the first gaffe by the Indian foreign minister. Earlier this year, he read the speech of the Portuguese Foreign Minister by mistake at a United Nations Security Council meeting. Three minutes into the speech he was interrupted by fellow Indian envoy.
Chishty was implicated in a murder case in 1992 while on a visit to India to see his ailing mother.
The criminal case was pending for 18 years, during which period Chishty was granted bail but with a stringent condition that he should not leave Ajmer, among other conditions. Tiwari, speaking to reporters later, said he was embarrassed to see that an 80-year-old national of a neighbouring country was facing this situation.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2011.
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