Protests over prayers

The storm over Raja Pervez Ashraf’s pilgrimage to Ajmer Sharif was needless, to state the least. The Pak Premier was on a private visit and India went out of the way to make it appear as one, without, of course, causing any diplomatic affront to the visitor.

Unlike President Asif Zardari and his son Bilawal, whom our PM received over lunch en route Ajmer, the Pak PM returned without touching ground in Delhi, leave alone meeting Dr Manmohan Singh. He was hosted instead by external affairs minister Salman Khurshid in Jaipur before leaving for the dargah with his delegation. The lunch was in a hotel, not the Raj Niwas, where foreign dignitaries are normally feted while on official visits.

The protests over the visit were triggered by Islamabad’s failure to address the India’s grievance over the beheading of a soldier along the Line of Control. To that extent, the protestors brought the visitors face to face with the depth and intensity of public outrage over the grotesque killing.

In fact, the visit, without the hosts saying it in as many words, helped India let Pakistan know that the LoC episode was unlikely to be easily forgotten. For India it was a cruel cut on the lacerating 26/11 wound Islamabad did precious little to heal by way of action against its perpetrators.

One can safely deduce in retrospect that by facilitating Ashraf’s pilgrimage, India acted in conformity with its international image of being responsible and restrained in the face of worst provocations. Except some visual back-slapping by compulsive hardliners, no purpose would have been served by blocking the Pak leader’s arrival.

India’s image has enhanced not diminished by its decision to receive Ashraf whose government is in a lame-duck-mode in the election bound country. We must be tough with a regime that can deliver but is recalcitrant. For that, we would have to await the poll outcome in Pakistan. In the meanwhile, we can congratulate ourselves for using Ashraf’s presence at the shrine to focus on the inclusive Sufi tradition under attack in Pakistan.

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