Amid the tumult over the issue of Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed, the emotional aspect of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and the political message it conveyed were pushed to the fringes. It took tweets by Mr. Zardari’s son Bilawal Bhutto to bring the prime purpose of the visit to the forefront with a recall of his slain mother’s words during her visit to the dargah in 2003.
Bilawal’s first tweet on his first-ever visit to the country was to wish peace to India and the sentiments were reciprocated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Zardari.
“Towards the end of lunch, Prime Minister told Zardari that since he was going to Ajmer Sharief, he should pray before the Khwaja sahib for peace in both our countries. President Zardari promised to do that,” tweeted BJP leader Sushma Swaraj on Sunday.
With the hour approaching for his departure to Ajmer, Bilawal followed up his earlier tweet by uploading a photo of his mother’s words etched in the distinguished visitors’ register at the Ajmer shrine in 2003 — “I feel great support coming to the dargah of Chishti and offering prayers. I am in the steps of all the great troubled souls from the great Moghuls to the most impoverished who come here as equals in the eyes of god to pray for the soul of Hazrat Chishti and to pray that god will save them from calamity and fill their lives with health, joy and comfort.”
The visit to the shrine of the Sufi mystic, who propagated a tolerant brand of Islam that favoured accommodation of prevalent cultural practices of a region such as praying at the graves of saints served to underline the ideological difference of Pakistan’s leadership with the hardline Islam of Saeed.
Benazir, accompanied by Mr. Zardari, both in exile, visited the shrine a few years later when she reportedly sought Hazrat Chishti’s blessings for a safe return to Pakistan and a win in the elections for her party. While the Pakistan People’s Party was successful at the hustings, Benazir did not survive to savour the win.
According to sources close to Mr. Zardari, this was his last window to visit the shrine before he becomes occupied with the din of elections.
The lunch also brought to the table individual issues that symbolise the tetchy character of state-to-state ties between the two countries. One such is the case of ailing Pakistani microbiologist Khalil Chishti, imprisoned in a Rajasthan jail. The issue was touched upon during lunch by Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
On being queried by Mr. Malik, Home Minister P. Chidambaram is said to have told him that the octogenarian’s case was before a court which was yet to take a view.
Born in India, Dr. Chishti had migrated to Pakistan. During a visit to Ajmer 20 years ago to meet his mother, he was present at a neighbourhood scuffle in which a person was shot dead. On the court’s order, the microbiologist stayed on in Ajmer till he was convicted. It is not known whether the imprisonment of alleged Indian spy, Sarabjeet Singh, lodged in a Pakistani jail and saved from the noose because of a concerted campaign by human rights activists there, was also mentioned.
But as Ms. Swaraj said, the lunch did not allow for a political dialogue … “only the Prime Minister had a one-toone with him [Mr. Zardari].”