In his bright tasseled turban, Pakistani cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman, is at ease in India. And it is no surprise that India grants him visas, allows him to move freely and even gives him an audience with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Rehman heads the Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Fazlur (JUI-F), which —under his father Mufti Mahmood's leadership — had once opposed the creation of Pakistan.
In contrast to most anti-Indian Islamists, Rehman exhorts for better ties between the two neighbours. "India and Pakistan should guard against American mediation in Kashmir," he said on Saturday at a luncheon by Rajya Sabha MP Mahmood Madni.
A US cable from Wikileaks describes Rehman as "more a politician than a mullah", and "one who has denounced terror attacks, but prefers to use negotiations rather than military force against militants".
Rehman is very much in the mainstream Pakistani politics. He is in the religious
mainstream, but not particularly radical — he's not just an Islamist but a politician with a national profile.
Despite all that, Rehman —who represents the Deobandi school of thought — expresses little regret over the assassination of liberal politician Salman Taseer and vowed to defend Pakistan's blasphemy laws. "Taseer called it a black law, which is blasphemy in itself. Since there was no action against him, there was anger," Rehman said.
Normalcy in Pakistan hinges on the exit of the Americans from Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said.
Rehman met PM Singh on Friday, leading an entourage compromising senators Moulana Muhammad Sherani and Khalid Soomro, former chief minister of KPK province, Muhammad Akram Khan Durrani, parliamentary leader in senate Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan and former federal minister Moulana Atta-ur-Rehman.
“Peace is a long journey that should not be abandoned. Destinations cannot be reached in its first few steps,” he says.