Leaders of religious and extremist groups, including Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed, have warned of protests against Indian home minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Pakistan on August 3, putting the Nawaz Sharif government in an embarrassing position.
India said on Monday Singh would go ahead with the visit to attend a meeting of interior ministers of SAARC nations in Islamabad though officials ruled out the possibility of bilateral talks with his Pakistani counterpart.
Saeed on Monday threatened the JuD will organise demonstrations and rallies across Pakistan if Singh went ahead with the visit, alleging the minister was behind the “killings of innocent Kashmiris”.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, which too is protesting against the visit, said it will organise processions and block roads in Islamabad “so that the Indian minister gets the message over the violence against innocent people” in Jammu and Kashmir.
Sources in Islamabad said the government was in a bind as there is considerable public support for the stand adopted by groups such as the JuD in view of the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, which has claimed nearly 50 lives. The state has witnessed widespread violence since Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by security forces last month.
Minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju played down the threats by Saeed and told reporters Singh would attend the SAARC meet as scheduled. “The SAARC meeting is a multilateral meeting. There are some commitments. He is not going to give some message or having a separate meeting with (the) Pakistani home minister,” he said.
The external affairs ministry had last week ruled out bilateral meetings during the visit by Singh, who will be the first Indian leader to visit Pakistan since a sharp downturn in ties following the terror attack on Pathankot airbase in January. The assault was blamed on Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The Jamaat-e-Islami and JuD have said they will hold protests under the umbrella of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a platform comprising dozens of religious and extremist groups. Members of the council have opposed the normalisation of relations with India in the past.
In a statement issued in Lahore on Monday, Hafiz Saeed accused Singh of being responsible for the killings in Jammu and Kashmir. “I want to ask the Pakistani government – will it add insult to injury to the wounds of Kashmiris by welcoming Rajnath who is responsible for the killings of innocent Kashmiris?” he said.
“It will be ironic, as on the one hand, the whole Pakistani nation is protesting against the Indian atrocities in Kashmir and on the other hand, the Pakistani rulers will be garlanding Singh,” he added.
He said the Pakistan government “might have compulsions to receive the Kashmiris’ killers” but the people are “siding with oppressed Kashmiris”.
Saeed, accused by India of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, said protests and rallies will be organised in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan, Faisalabad, Muzaffarabad and other cities on August 3.
“The people of Kashmir had refused to meet Singh during his Srinagar visit. The PML-N government must also refuse to receive the BJP leader on the excuse that it may hurt and incite feelings of Kashmiris and Pakistanis,” he said.
Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to immediately recall Pakistan’s envoy from New Delhi and suspend trade and diplomatic ties with India because of the unrest in the Kashmir Valley.
“Ailing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should at least recall Pakistan’s high commissioner from New Delhi and suspend trade and diplomatic ties with India. The rulers should give up hypocrisy and the Pakistan government should either plead the case of Kashmiris or make friends with India,” Salahuddin said while addressing the “Azadi Kashmir March” in Lahore on Sunday.
Salahuddin said Pakistan should not have invited Singh to the SAARC meet.
The organsiers of the “Azadi Kashmir March” originally intended to go up to the Wagah border with India but security forces stopped the protesters on the outskirts of Lahore. Observers pointed out that the government of Punjab province, which is led by Prime Minister Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, had done little to tamp down anti-India protests in recent weeks.
The spike in violence in Jammu and Kashmir has escalated the rivalry between the two countries. India was angered when Pakistani leaders referred to militant commander Burhan Wani as a “Kashmiri leader” and described his death as an “extrajudicial killing”.
Following back to back visits to Pakistan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj last December, the two sides had agreed to launch a comprehensive dialogue. Efforts to normalise ties went into a tailspin after the Pathankot attack and the lack of political engagement has heightened tensions.
(With inputs from HT Correspondent in New Delhi.)