LAHORE / ISLAMABAD: An unannounced meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a visiting Indian business tycoon at the hill resort town of Murree on Thursday triggered intense speculations in the country with several politicians and analysts suggesting it could be the precursor to a possible meeting between the Pakistani and Indian premiers in the near future.
Sajjan Jindal, who is known for being close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also has a friendly relationship with Mr Sharif. Some seasoned analysts said that Mr Jindal’s visit could be part of some backchannel contact to improve relations between the two countries.
Informed sources point out that it’s not possible for Mr Jindal to visit Pakistan without prior knowledge of the country’s civilian and military intelligence services.
PTI submits resolution in Punjab Assembly; lawmaker says party will raise issue in National Assembly
Former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri described the controversy stirred up by the visit as unfortunate, saying that just because it was part of some backchannel diplomacy, it should not be rejected outright. In fact, he said, some of the best results were achieved as a result of backchannel contacts.
On the other hand, some opposition politicians were angry over the government’s decision to keep Mr Jindal’s visit as well the PM’s meeting with him secret.
The opposition PTI moved a resolution in the Punjab Assembly expressing grave concern over Prime Minister Sharif’s ‘secret’ meeting with Mr Jindal, the Indian steel magnate.
The meeting was mentioned by a number of TV anchors in broadcasts on Thursday, but there was no official word until the prime minister’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, tweeted confirmation of the steel tycoon’s visit.
“Mr Jindal is an old friend of the prime minister. Nothing ‘secret’ about the meeting & should not be blown out of proportion. Thank you,” read the tweet.
According to media reports, Mr Jindal and his delegation arrived at Benazir Bhutto International Airport on Wednesday morning, where they were received by the PM’s son Hussain Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz’s son-in-law, Raheel Munir.
The meeting between the PM and Mr Jindal is said to have taken place in Murree. The prime minister, who arrived by helicopter along with his guests, landed at the Gharyal Ground and proceeded to have lunch at the Government House at Kashmir Point.
Although strict security was in place for the brief visit, the identity of the PM’s guests was not known at the time.
The resolution, submitted by Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed, said that a three-member delegation, led by Mr Jindal, was taken to Murree under official protocol.
The opposition leader said the meeting became a matter of serious concern since the government had tried to keep it “secret”.
He said the timing of the meeting was cause for concern, especially in the wake of the extreme atrocities being committed against unarmed Kashmiris by occupying Indian troops; the death sentence awarded to Kulbhushan Jadhav by a military tribunal and Indian forces’ unprovoked firing at the Line of Control.
“In these circumstances, Narendra Modi’s close aides’ (Mr Jindal) meeting with [the] Pakistani prime minister has sent a wave of restlessness among [the] masses,” Mr Rasheed said in the resolution.
Has Sajjan Jindal come to Pakistan to rescue Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently embroiled in crisis, the opposition leader asked.
The resolution demanded that the nation be informed about the aims and objectives of the Indian delegation’s meeting with the PM.
In his address on the floor of the Punjab Assembly, the opposition leader said that the Supreme Court had declared PM Nawaz Sharif ”an accused”. He said the state of the country’s affairs was deteriorating with every passing day and almost all segments of society were demanding PM Sharif’s resignation.
He stressed that Nawaz Sharif should stay away from the PM Office until the joint investigation team finalises its investigation into the Panamagate scandal.
Meanwhile, speaking to reporters in Islamabad, PTI MNA Murad Saeed questioned why the prime minister was meeting an Indian steel magnate at a time when tensions were high with our eastern neighbour.
He claimed the party would move an adjournment motion in the National Assembly on the issue.
Sajjan Jindal heads the JSW Group, which specialises in steel, energy and infrastructure projects. His younger brother, former Congress party lawmaker Naveen Jindal, is chairman of the umbrella Jindal Group.
Mr Jindal’s relationship with the Sharifs is no secret: he was an honoured guest at the wedding of the prime minister’s granddaughter in December 2015, the same occasion where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also a guest.
In her book, This Unquiet Land, Indian journalist Barkha Dutt describes Mr Jindal as “the unexpected conduit [between PMs Sharif and Modi] with movie-star looks”.
“When Sharif was in Delhi, Jindal hosted a tea party for the Pakistani premier right after his meeting with Modi. It attracted little attention in the Indian media but in Pakistan, Sharif drew flak for finding time for Jindal and not for Kashmiri separatists,” she wrote.
Hassan Belal Zaidi also contributed to this report.