The focus was on the Hurriyat leaders and the level of India’s representation at the Pakistan Day function on Monday but in the end, the food was the biggest hit.
So while reporters tried to corner Hurriyat leaders Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for a few quotes after minister of state for external affairs VK Singh made a brief appearance at the event held at the Pakistan high commission, most guests made a beeline for tables laden with biryani, mutton chops and chicken korma.
After intense speculation on whether the Indian government would downgrade its presence at the ceremony hosted by Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit following a spat over interactions with the Hurriyat, Singh walked on to the mission’s lawns about half an hour after the event had begun.
The former army chief stayed for hardly 10 minutes, posing for photos with Basit and joining the envoy on a stage when he delivered a speech.
“Pakistan and India are neighbours and will continue to be neighbours. We owe it to our future generations not to leave a legacy of hostility and conflict,” Basit said as Singh stood beside him.
The two countries should work together to tackle common problems and leave a legacy of peace and cooperation, Basit said. “The government and people of India will not find Pakistan wanting in this regard,” he added.
Soon after Basit finished his speech, a solemn-looking Singh walked out of the venue without mingling with the guests.
Political parties were conspicuous by their absence at the event, which was held hours after New Delhi tersely rejected Basit’s contention that the Indian government had no objections to his interactions with the Hurriyat. The only notable politician seen making the rounds was Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, an old Pakistan hand.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin rejected any role for the separatists in settling the Kashmir issue, saying there was no place for a third party in resolving bilateral issues.
While Geelani gamely provided bytes to television crews and journalists, most of the guests headed to the food tables laden with an array of snacks like gol gappas, chaat and dahi bhallas, and dishes like biryani, mutton chops, chicken tak-a-tak, chicken korma, kebabs, chicken tikka, baingan and mirchi ka saalan and vegetable pulao. For those with a sweet tooth, there were jalebis and gulab jamuns.
The talk, however, focussed on whether the two sides would resume their dialogue any time soon. But on this issue no one seemed to have a clear answer.
“Our two countries need to work together to resolve our problems and issues and to address the challenges which our two countries are facing, which our region is facing,” Basit said.