India visit a success, insist Sharif aides

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to the federal capital on Tuesday evening where he was greeted by a volley of criticism from the media, which was up in arms that he had not mentioned Kashmir during his visit to India while he had been greeted by the T word (terrorism). However, it did not take long for the prime minister’s senior aides to jump into action and address the criticism. They tried hard to convince many that the meeting had been a success. “Mr Modi’s promise to visit Pakistan, the resumption of secretary level talks, and taking forward the Lahore declaration signed by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and then Indian Prime Minister [Atal Behari] Vajpayee back in 1999 which has a clear mention of the Kashmir issue,” shot back a member of the delegation, when asked to list the reasons the trip should be seen as a success for Pakistan.

He said the two prime ministers had two meetings — a delegation level interaction followed by a one-to-one chit chat, adding that one would easily assume that the two must have discussed irritants between the two countries.

“Yes, the two countries have stated positions on the issue of Kashmir, which need to be discussed and both have agreed to take it up in their future meetings,” said the official.

He pointed out that the BJP’s mood can be judged from the fact that Prime Minister Sharif was received by the new Indian Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, when the former went to visit Mr Vajpayee at his residence.

The frail looking Mr Vajpayee, the official told Dawn, was happy to see Mr Sharif once again and expressed hope for the normalisation of ties between the two countries.

“What else, one can expect from such a short visit?” asked the official.

He gave more examples of the warm welcome Mr Sharif was given during his various visits — to the president of India, Indian corporate giants and during his visit to Delhi’s Jama Masjid.

While the reaction on the television talk shows in the evening was not too encouraging, the political parties were less critical.

Talking to media persons at the parliament house, Syed Khursheed Shah didn’t find any fault with the outcome of the visit.

Explaining that the two countries had to first improve the atmospherics before thorny issues such as Kashmir and distribution of water could be discussed, he added that “I personally believe the visit by Prime Minister Sharif to India will pave the way towards that direction.”

On the other hand, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), wasn’t too happy with the statement the prime minister had made in India.

Talking to Dawn, the PTI information secretary, Dr Shireen Mazari said, “While Mr Modi spoke on terrorism and gave the Indian position versus Pakistan, our PM did not demand that India stop supporting terrorism inside Pakistan especially Balochistan. Nor did he mention Kashmir in his officially prepared text.”

She added that it seemed that the PML-N government had no clear India policy apart from promoting business links.

However, she did concede that the prime minister did reflect the true sentiments vis-a-vis the need for better relations with India.

She also criticised Mr Sharif for not meeting the delegation of Hurriyat Conference.

Jan Achakzai, the spokesperson for the JUI-F, said that the prime minister failed to offer a counter-narrative on terrorism and flag other national concerns versus India.

He too felt that a meeting with the delegation of Hurriyat Conference would have helped the prime minister on home soil.

However, he did say that the secretary-level talks, Mr Modi’s acceptance of a visit to Pakistan and the convergence of trade ties were good signs.