Islamabad: The Pakistan Foreign Office has refused to comment on the hush-hush visit of Indian steel magnate Sajjan Jindal to Murree to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, amid speculation that it was a move to revive the stalled dialogue process between the two countries.
The visit of Jindal, said to be Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's mutual friend, on Wednesday came on the day Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale filed an appeal with the Foreign Office against the death sentence awarded to alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, Dawn reported. The appeal was submitted on behalf of Jadhav's mother in which she had sought the government's intervention for the release of her son, who has been sentenced to death for espionage.
The visit echoed in the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday. But after Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, who was leading the FO team at the meeting, failed to respond to queries about Jindal's trip, committee chairman Awais Leghari brought the discussion to an end.
Jindal, who is considered as a sort of back-channel contact, was taken by helicopter to Murree to meet the Sharif family.
Jindal in the past has facilitated a secret meeting between Sharif and Modi in Kathmandu on the sidelines of a Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in 2014. The meeting had then helped save the summit that had seemed to be headed for failure and a last-minute deal to create a regional electricity grid was clinched, Dawn reported.
Jindal was in Lahore on December 25, 2015, when Modi paid a surprise visit to greet Sharif on his birthday and attend his granddaughter's wedding.
"Why is the government quiet over Jindal's visit?" asked Pakistan People's Party's Nafeesa Shah during the committee's meeting.
There was no formal press statement issued by the PM Office on Jindal's meeting with Sharif.
However, Maryam Nawaz confirmed the trip in a tweet. She rejected media reports of the meeting being 'secret'. "Mr Jindal is an old friend of the Prime Minister. Nothing 'secret' about the meeting & should not be blown out of proportion," she tweeted on Friday after the issue hit headlines.
Pakistan Tehreek Insaf's Shireen Mazari wondered how Jindal visited Murree, when his visa was restricted for Islamabad and Lahore only.
"If Jindal had come on a private visit, why did FO officials receive him?" Mazari asked.
Meanwhile, the Daily Times, in an editorial on the visit, titled "Much ado about Jindal visit" said much of the speculation surrounding the Indian businessman's visit "revolves around whether he brought some special 'message' to the Pakistani government from its counterparts in India, or the extent to which some sort of back-channel diplomacy took place".
"It must be admitted that the meeting was somewhat unexpected, given the relatively tense relations between the two countries. It is also a fair demand to ask that an elected government be more forthcoming over dealings "if any" with foreign countries, through any channels.
"However, it should also be borne in mind that at the end of the day, governments must talk to each other. In tense times, personal contacts between powerful stakeholders of two countries are nothing new. More importantly, such contacts ought not to be necessarily seen in an ominous light."
"...it is now of the utmost importance that the business of diplomacy continue. Diplomatic relations and communication between the governments of two nuclear-armed states are too important to be sacrificed to the whims of hawkish voices on either side. Those who believe that relations between the two countries are currently too tense for such communication should perhaps explain what alternative they prefer. Talking at a Pakistani hill resort is far better than exchanges of fire in the hills of Kashmir for both sides."