Steel magnate Sajjan Jindal meets Sharif, sparks speculation of Indo-Pak talks
Jindal flew into the Rawalpindi airport in a private aircraft with a small delegation, and was received by Nawaz Sharif’s family members. The Indian delegation travelled to the PM’s House in the capital for a meeting, and were later driven to the resort of Murree, about 40 km from Islamabad, for a meeting with Sharif.india Updated: May 11, 2017 22:32 IST
Indian steel magnate Sajjan Jindal met Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Murree on Wednesday, sparking speculation that he may have been involved in efforts to revive the stalled dialogue between the two countries.
The visit came against the backdrop of unabated violence in Jammu and Kashmir, which prompted chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting on Monday to talk to the Hurriyat and other stakeholders. She also referred to former premier AB Vajpayee’s Kashmir peace push and noted that Modi had repeatedly said he would follow Vajpayee’s “footsteps, whose policy is of reconciliation not confrontation”.
Jindal, who flew into the Rawalpindi airport in a private aircraft with a small delegation, was received by Sharif’s son Hussain Nawaz and Raheel Munir, a businessman who is the husband of Sharif’s granddaughter Mehr-un-Nisa.
The Indian delegation then travelled to the Prime Minister’s House in the capital for a meeting, sources in Islamabad told Hindustan Times.
Later, Jindal and his delegation were driven to the resort of Murree, about 40 km from Islamabad, for a meeting with Sharif.
Confirmation of the contact came from Maryam Nawaz, the premier’s daughter who dismissed suggestions the meetings were “secret” in nature.
Maryam, seen as Sharif’s heir, tweeted: “Mr. Jindal is an old friend of the Prime Minister. Nothing ‘secret’ about the meeting & should not be blown out of proportion. Thank you.”
Mr. Jindal is an old friend of the Prime Minister. Nothing 'secret' about the meeting & should not be blown out of proportion. Thank you.— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) April 27, 2017
External affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said he had “no information” on the meeting.
There was no official word from the Pakistan government or Jindal on the meetings, and reports in the Pakistani media suggested the businessman had carried a message for Sharif from Modi.
There was also speculation that the message could have referred to Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former Indian Navy officer sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court for alleged spying. India on Wednesday launched an appeal against the verdict.
Modi and Sharif could meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting to be held in the Kazakhstan capital of Astana in June even though both countries are yet to confirm such a meeting.
Reports in the Pakistani media said Jindal, the brother of former Congress MP Naveen Jindal, flew to Rawalpindi from Kabul.
A source in the JSW Group told HT that the Jindal and Sharif families have known each other for decades and this was a personal visit by the magnate. “When Nawaz Sharif last visited India for the oath-taking ceremony of Narendra Modi as prime minister in 2014, even then the Pakistani prime minister had dropped by to see the Jindals in New Delhi,” the source said.
Like the Jindal family, the Sharif family too has interests in the steel business.
Jindal was in Lahore in December 2015 when Modi made a surprise trip to the eastern Pakistani city while returning from an official visit to Afghanistan to wish Sharif on his birthday and to participate in events before the marriage of Mehr-un-Nisa, the daughter of Maryam Nawaz, and Raheel Munir.
Raheel Munir, the son of prominent businessman Chaudhry Munir, is also related to ISI chief Naveed Mukhtar, sources said.
Jindal reportedly played a key role in facilitating an “hour-long secret meeting” between Modi and Sharif on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit in Nepal in 2014, journalist Barkha Dutt revealed in her book, This Unquiet Land – Stories from India’s Fault Lines.
Dutt described Jindal as an informal messenger serving as a “covert bridge” between the two leaders and keeping them “connected even when things got difficult”.