Bhutan, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh: South Asia pays tribute to Vajpayee
Bhutan king Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk and other South Asian leaders were present at the funeral of former prime minister AB Vajpayee on Friday and many others paid rich tribute to the departed leader, recalling his contribution to regional peace.
Nepal foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali and his Bangladeshi counterpart Abdul Hassan Mahmud Ali attended the funeral. Pakistan sent law minister Ali Zafar to pay homage to Vajpayee and Sri Lanka was represented by acting foreign minister Lakshman Kiriella.
Vajpayee, who passed away on Thursday aged 93, was on Friday cremated with full military honours at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal, where people turned out in tens of thousands to pay their final tributes.
“There is a void in the politics of South Asia after his death. There can be political differences but the desire of peace remains present across the border. We stand with India in this difficult time,” Pakistan prime minister-elect Imran Khan said.
Vajpayee did take political risks in mending ties with Pakistan. His attending the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad in 2004 and taking the bus ride to Lahore in 1999 were efforts at improving the ties with the neighbour though relations were soured by the neighbour’s military aggression in Kargil.
“Vajpayee was a renowned statesman who contributed to bringing a change in India-Pakistan relations and remained a key supporter of SAARC and regional cooperation for development. The Government and people of Pakistan extend their heartfelt condolences to his family and to the Government and people of India,” the official message from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Vajpayee paid close attention to the ties with Bhutan in his avatar both as foreign minister and Prime Minister. Bhutan was flying its national flag half mast on Friday as mark of respect to Vajpayee. The Bhutanese King visited the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters and placed a wreath on the body of Vajpayee.
Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai, who worked closely with Vajpayee after the fall of the Taliban rule in Kabul in 2001, recalled that the departed leader was “the first to offer us civilian planes, Airbuses at the time we were starting out”.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina fondly recalled her country’s longstanding ties with Vajpayee, who supported the creation of Bangladesh out of East Pakistan following the 1971 liberation war.
“Atal Bihari Vajpayee was our great friend and highly respected in Bangladesh.”
Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that in Vajpayee’s death, Nepal has lost a “true friend and well wisher”.
In the message, to PM Narendra Modi, Oli stated that the late Vajpayee was a “visionary statesman with impeccable integrity and dedication, who will be remembered for his sagacity and exemplary selfless service to the people of India”.
Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Nepal foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Bangladesh foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and Sri Lanka’s acting foreign minister Lakshman Kiriella were among several foreign dignitaries present at former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s funeral in New Delhi on Friday.
A Pakistani delegation led by acting law and information minister Syed Ali Zafar also arrived in the Capital to pay their last respects.
Zafar is accompanied by Fareha Bugti, director-India, ministry of foreign affairs; Muhammad Faisal, director general-South Asia, SAARC, and MoFA spokesperson; and Danyal Gillani, director to law and information minister.
Upon arrival at the Delhi airport, Zafar told ANI, “We are here to share your grief and pay condolence on behalf of the people of Pakistan and the government of Pakistan”.
British high commissioner to India Dominic Asquith also paid homage.
Bangladesh foreign minister Mahmood Ali told ANI, “We remember him (Vajpayee) for his contribution to the Bangladesh liberation war and his strong support to the people of Bangladesh. He had a great liking for Bengali music. I had the privilege of serving in Delhi as career diplomat when he became the foreign minister.”
A sea of people swarmed the roads with teary-eyed men and women, young and old, jostling to catch a last glimpse of their leader, who lies in state on a decorated gun carriage. Many chanted slogans, and others sprinkled rose petals on the carriage.
The cadaver was taken out from the newly built Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters, and the last rites were performed at Smriti Sthal.
(With inputs from agencies)