Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and his family prayed on Saturday at the revered 13th century shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz in Ajmer on a whirlwind day-long trip in which politics was kept off the agenda.
Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid earlier hosted a lunch for Premier Ashraf at Rambagh Palace, a luxury heritage hotel in the tourist city of Jaipur, and said he was welcoming the Pakistani leader with ‘open arms’, 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, adding that controversial topics such as alleged sponsorship of cross-border militancy by Pakistan were not discussed at the lunch. “Today it was a private visit. There were no official talks. We will do it at the appropriate time,” Khurshid said.
At his half-hour visit to the shrine, Ashraf wrote: “I wish for peace in the world and for peace and prosperity in Pakistan,” in Urdu in the visitors’ book.
But the prime minister also received a hostile public reception from certain quarters.
“Why has he come here? He should have known better and stayed at home,” said Indian opposition leader and former president of the Bharatiya Janata Party Venkaiah Naidu.
Security was beefed up for his day-long trip, with snipers posted on rooftops of houses and traffic suspended for the most part of the day around Rambagh Palace as well as the shrine. Over 1,000 policemen guarded the stretch of his flight by helicopter from the hotel to the Dargah.
Ashraf offered a 42-metre multi-coloured velvet ‘chadar’ – a ceremonial cloth inscribed with religious verses – and flowers to the shrine. A ‘ziyarat’ was performed by his family ‘khadim’ Syed Bilal Chisti.
Indian Army chief’s take
Indian Army chief Gen Bikram Singh on Saturday issued a stern warning to Pakistan by saying that Indian soldiers will retaliate if the neighbouring country violated the ceasefire at the Line of Control.
“If they [Pakistani troops] violate the ceasefire, hum bhi churian pehan ke nahin baithe hain (we are not wearing bangles). Our men [will] also fire. This work is done at the tactical level and it is happening,” said the army chief.
Gen Singh said the Indian army was giving a ‘befitting’ reply to any ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops. “Our soldiers are not sitting idle. We won’t remain quiet if they violate the ceasefire. This keeps on happening at the ground. The battalion commanders are the best people to reply,” Singh replied when asked about the situation at the LoC.
Commenting on PM Ashraf’s visit to Ajmer, Gen Singh said: “The visit is a political decision ... Being an army chief, I would not like to comment on it.”
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2013.
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