The pilgrim town of Ajmer is all set to receive Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who will pay obeisance at the historic dargah of Sufi mystic Khwaja Moinduddin Chishti on Sunday. Highly structured security arrangements are in place for the high-profile visit, even as a drill was carried out on Saturday evening.
Mr. Zardari, accompanied by a delegation, will arrive at Sanganer airport here from Delhi after his luncheon meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The delegation will leave by helicopters to the Ghooghra helipad on the outskirts of Ajmer and travel a distance of 12 km from there to the 13th century shrine by road.
Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Mr. Zardari's son Bilawal are stated to be among the members of the delegation accompanying the President. The district administration is in touch with the Pakistan High Commission for information on other members of the entourage.
According to the President's itinerary released by the administration, the delegation will stay inside the dargah for 35 minutes to offer ‘chadars' and floral tributes at the Sufi saint's mausoleum, perform ‘fateha' (supplication) and go around the premises comprising mosques, graves of the Khwaja's disciples, a pool and two big cauldrons used for cooking food during the annual Urs.
Representatives of the statutory dargah committee and the anjuman of khadims (workers) will welcome Mr. Zardari and other VIPs at different gates and perform his ‘dastaarbandi' and present gifts. After the ‘ziarat' (pilgrimage), the delegation is scheduled to leave for Jaipur in the evening on its way back to Islamabad.
Sources in the administration said the dargah premises will be vacated two hours before the scheduled visit and entry for others barred till the President's departure. Additional security forces have been deployed in the dargah market, while armed security personnel will be positioned on the rooftop of the surrounding buildings.
Though this would be Mr. Zardari's private visit to the Sufi saint's tomb, it has generated considerable interest in view of his meeting with Dr. Singh in the national capital. The visit is also expected to provide an impetus to the peace process between India and Pakistan held up after the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008.
Mr. Zardari had earlier visited the dargah in 2005 with his wife and the former Prime Minister, the late Benazir Bhutto. Ms. Bhutto was a firm believer in the Chishti ‘silsila' (order) of Sufi mysticism in Islam, which has a considerable following in Sindh and Punjab provinces of the neighbouring country. The dargah of Data Ganj Baksh, a forerunner of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, is situated in Lahore.
Pakistani heads of State Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf have also visited the dargah.
A day before Mr. Zardari's visit, the sister and daughter of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian sentenced to death in Pakistan on terror charges and jailed for 22 years now, offered a chadar at the dargah seeking “divine intervention” for facilitating his release. They said they would try to meet the President to request him to release Sarabjit Singh on humanitarian grounds.
Sarabjit Singh's sister Dalbir Kaur and daughter Swapandeep told reporters that Benazir Bhutto had visited the shrine in 2003 and prayed for Mr. Zardari's release when he was imprisoned in Pakistan: “We hope our prayers too would be answered and Mr. Zardari would clear the mercy petition pending with him.”
According to information received here, the former Pakistan Federal Minister, Iqbal Haider, has raised a similar issue and appealed to Mr. Zardari to seek the release of octogenarian Pakistani virologist Dr. Khaleel Chishty convicted in a murder case and imprisoned in Ajmer. His mercy petition has been pending since long with acting Rajasthan Governor Shivraj Patil.
In his appeal, Mr. Haider called upon the President to raise the issue with the Indian authorities during his visit and seek the release of Dr. Chisty who is in a critical condition. Mr. Zardari had himself released an Indian prisoner, Gopal Das, last year in response to a request made by the former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju.