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Nothing official about it


Pakistan will not leave any chance at extracting mileage as the recent trip of outgoing Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf's trip to Ajmer demonstrated. Syed Khurram Raza looks at the larger picture
SYED KHURRAM RAZA | Issue Dated: March 24, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Raja Parvez Ashraf | Pakistan | Ajmer Sharif | General Pervez Musharraf | Gharib Nawaz |

What steps will Pakistan not take to make a point when conducting its relations with India? Traditional diplomacy, track two meetings and sporting exchanges. Now add to it, dargah diplomacy.

When news that Pakistan's outgoing Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf wanted to visit Ajmer Sharif, it did not make sense immediately. He was, after all, demitting office in a few days and could not in any way make an impact on Indo-Pakistan ties which have been under strain since the beheading of two Indian soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC) in January this year.

There was considerable confusion about the status of the visit until New Delhi decided to treat it as a private one. That clearly did not suit Islamabad which has spared no effort to politicise any event that can get it global mileage.

So when it comes to diplomacy, Pakistan is quick to exploit every situation, be it sports or religion. General Zia Ul Haq in 1987, President General Pervez Musharraf in 2004 and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in 2011 used cricket to improve relations with India - or more appropriately used it as an occasion to play to the international gallery.

While cricket diplomacy is Pakistan's most-favoured way of communication, in the last one year, both their President and Prime Minister have come on private visits to India, ostensibly to pay obeisance to the Gharib Nawaz at Ajmer Sharif. Ajmer Sharif remains among the holiest of shrines for Muslims in south Asia and a place of worship which attracts a large number of believers from all faiths. The folk lore here -  as with other prominent pilgrim places -  believes that a visitor can only go there you are called.

The question people are asking is this: is it yet another Pakistani strand of diplomacy where even the world famous dargah is fair game? How does Pakistan balance open defiance of India by lavishly hosting India's most wanted, Dawood Ibrahim and Saeed Hafeez and other perpetuators of serious terror attacks in the last couple of decades, with emotional trips to the Ajmer Dargah?

Says Mohammed Maroof Khan, principal of New Delhi's Zakir Hussain Memorial School, ``This is sheer hypocrisy and goes against the teachings of the Gharib Nawaz. I do not believe that Pakistani politicians go to Ajmer only to pay obeisance, it is not much different from watching cricket matches, as in the past.''

According to sources, Pakistan wanted to buy some space but it did not suit India. ``First, the atmosphere in our country is sensitive about the beheading of Indian soldiers and second, since President Raja Pervez Ashraf is in office for just another week, he is not in a position to take any decision. Hence the Indian response has been tepid – other than a lunch thrown in his honour by Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid in Jaipur, '' he says. Officials interpret Raja's move as the following: Pakistan was testing out the waters to see if India was willing to hold talks after the recent bad blood. They wanted an invitation without asking for it!  The Indian government gave a very clear message that they would not bite. It is evident in the representation of officials who went to Jaipur. The highest-level Indian officer present there was the Director, Pakistan Desk at the MEA. Surely things would have been different if either Ashraf had more time in office or it was Zardari or Nawaz Sharif on a dargah visit.

Little wonder, that the tenor of the lunch invitation was anything but diplomatic. Those present said the Indian Foreign Minister talked at length on Sufism, Sufi music, Abida Parveen and the Rajasthan culture - but there was nothing official about the meeting.

In diplomacy, every small nuance tells a tale: Salman Khurshid, for instance, did not wait for Raja Ashraf to return from Ajmer and left for Delhi immediately after lunch. So India down played the whole visit and made it a strictly private affair where the visiting Pakistani VIP was accompanied by close family members. Islamabad's desperate efforts to salvage something official from the trip remained thwarted.

But as can be expected, in an Indo-Pakistan drama, politics could not be too far away from the surface. There was resistance to the visit by some Khuddams who guide devotees in paying homage at the pilgrimage.  Says Deewan Zainul Abeidin, who publicly opposed the Pakistani's Prime Minister's visit. ``I am the descendant of Khawaja Gharib Nawaz and as you know, he was the messenger of peace in this region. I cannot welcome the head of a state which does not observe the teachings of Gharib Nawaz. The head of state of a country which claims to be an Islamic Republic and does not follow the teachings of Islam and Prophet Mohammad should not be welcomed. Basically they have defamed Islam and it is because of them that Muslims are seen with suspicion.”

But not all agree with Deewan Abeidin's hostility. Some believe it could actually hasten the peace process. Says Mufti Mukarram, Shahi Imam of Delhi's influential Fatehpuri Masjid, ``I believe that Raja Pervez Ashraf's visit would bear positive results if he has paid obeisance in the true spirit because that was what the Gharib Nawaz preached and practiced. It is our belief that only those come who are called by the Khwaja so who are we to stop anyone? If Deewanji is a true descendant of Gharib Nawaz, then he would have never said this. The message which the Sufi saint spread about 800 years ago laid down the bench marks of peace and love.'' The question is whether the hard balls in Rawalpindi  look at it the same way.>

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017