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Pakistani PM reaches Ajmer Sharif amid protests

Pakistan PM Raja Pervez Ashraf arrived today in Ajmer amidst tight security to offer prayers at the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti after a brief halt at Jaipur where foreign minister Salman Khurshid hosted a lunch for him. Army Chief denies comment on Ashraf's visit

jaipur Updated: Mar 09, 2013 16:48 IST
Pakistan Prime Minister,Raja Pervez Ashraf,external affairs minister

Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf arrived on Saturday in Ajmer amidst tight security to offer prayers at the 13th century dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti after foreign minister Salman Khurshid hosted a lunch for him in Jaipur.

Ashraf and the Pakistani delegation reached the dargah around 4:10pm in three Indian Air Force helicopters to offer prayers at the Sufi shrine.

Ashraf landed at Googhra helipad, which is 12km away from Ajmer and traveled in a bulletproof car to the shrine. His cavalcade comprised of nearly 20 vehicles.

Earlier, Khurshid said that issues like terrorism were not discussed with Ashraf.

"This was a private visit. It was a pilgrimage (for Ashraf). This was not the occasion nor did I have the authority to discuss such issues," he told reporters after the lunch at Rambagh Palace Hotel in Jaipur.

He was replying to a question whether terrorism was discussed with his guest.

"We have taken up such issues. We will do it in future. Today it was a private visit. There was no official talk. We will do it at the appropriate time," Khurshid said.

Ashraf arrived in India on Saturday for a pilgrimage to a revered Muslim shrine, with Khurshid welcoming him with "open arms".

Khurshid's warm welcome for Ashraf -- making his first visit to India as prime minister -- comes despite strained relations between the nuclear-armed rivals over recent border clashes.

"It's in our culture to welcome our guests with open arms," said Khurshid ahead of a lunch he will host for Ashraf at the Rambagh Palace, a luxury heritage hotel in Jaipur.

Khurshid and Ashraf smiled and shook hands for television cameras before retreating behind closed doors for their lunch.

Ashraf, who is accompanied by a 40-member delegation and some family members, was received at the Sanganer Airport by Rajasthan government officials.

The Pakistan's Prime Minister's flight to India was delayed by over 50 minutes.

An official spokesperson in the ministry of external affairs had said that "The Pakistan Prime Minister is not visiting New Delhi and no substantive discussions are scheduled to be held in Jaipur".

Asked if a proposal for a meeting in New Delhi was made by India, he had said the visiting dignitary had expressed the desire to undertake a private visit and "all requirements to meet his needs are met. In addition we have not received any other request."

A group of protestors waived black flags and shouted slogans as Khurshid hosted a lunch for Ashraf at the hotel.

"Despite India's strong protest against the beheading of Indian soldiers, it is unfortunate that the Pakistani PM is getting a VIP treatment in Jaipur," said an activist of Karani Sena, which is protesting Ashraf's private visit.

In Ajmer, police was facing a tough time in controlling the mobs. At the main gate of the shrine, three women wearing black saris shouted slogan saying "(Pakistani) prime minister go back" when they saw a Pakistani delegation. They were later removed by police, an official said.

Police have detained about 15 people, including eight Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists, as they were working out a strategy to organise protests from the Ghugra helipad near the town to the Sufi shrine, a senior police official said.

The official added that the shrine will be vacated minutes before Ashraf's arrival.

There will be snipers on rooftops in the shrine area and also at the windows of houses lining the main road leading to the shrine. Police will be deputed every 50 fifty metres of the route.

The administration has ordered closure of the shops situated in the area.

"The shops will remain closed until he leaves the shrine," the police officer said.

The Ajmer Bar Association has demanded that the status of "state guest" given to the Pakistan prime minister be withdrawn.

The association plans to show black flags to Ashraf.

The spiritual head of the Ajmer shrine Dewan Sayed Zainul Abedin Ali Khan has also created a stir by saying that he will boycott Ashraf's visit to protest the beheading of an Indian soldier at the border.

In a statement Friday, he said that he would not receive the Pakistani prime minister at the shrine.

"As the 'sajjada nasheen' (head) of this place, I have welcomed prime ministers and presidents of different countries and blessed them," he said.

"But I have decided to boycott the visit of the Pakistan PM because of the inhumane acts of beheading an Indian soldier" and killing another, he had said.

Pakistani soldiers had Jan 8 intruded into India in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch district, killed two Indian soldiers and beheaded one of them. This led to escalation of tension between the two countries, but the situation eased after a flag meeting between the two sides Jan 14.

Ashraf's visit comes at a time when there is a chill in bilateral ties over the ceasefire violations at the LoC. An Indian soldier was beheaded by Pakistani troops while the mutilated body of another was found in January.

New Delhi had lodged a strong protest over the beheading of an Indian soldier and brutal killing of another.

(With PTI and AFP inputs)

First Published: Mar 09, 2013 12:52 IST