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For visiting Pak PM: Lunch with Khurshid, protests in Ajmer

Source : AGENCIES
Last Updated: Sat, Mar 09, 2013 16:04 hrs
Pak PM offer prayer at Ajmer Sharif

Ajmer: Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf on Saturday offered prayers at the historic dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti during his private visit here that was marked by protests.

The brief trip of 62-year-old Ashraf to the 13th century shrine hit a sour note following a boycott by the Dargahs spiritual head in protest against the recent brutal killing and beheading of Indian soldiers by the Pakistani Army.

Opposing the Pakistan premier's visit that was marked by tight security, local lawyers, some BJP activists and representatives of markets associations staged protests and shouted anti-Pakistan slogans.



After he offered 'chadar' and floral tributes, Ashraf prayed for peace in the world and prosperity in Pakistan.

"Me and my family members are fortunate to get the opportunity to visit the dargah. I thank you Garib nawaz. I wish for peace in the world and for peace and prosperity in Pakistan," the Prime Minister wrote in Urdu in the visitors book.

Ashraf, on a short visit to India, along with his wife Nusrat and over 20 others including his relatives offered prayers at the Dargah and stayed inside the historic shrine for about 30 minutes. He was assisted by the khadims in his prayers.

Clad in cream coloured sherwani and a white and round cap, Ashraf carried a 42-metre multicoloured velvet Chadar--a ceremonial cloth inscribed with religious verses--and flowers on his head for offering it to the Sufi saintҒs mausoleum where a 'ziyarat' was performed by his family khadim Syed Bilal Chisti. Turban tying (Dastarbandi) was another ceremony that took place in the shrine.

Tight security arrangements were in place in view of threats by advocates to protest the visit and over 1,000 police personnel guarded the entire stretch from the helipad to the Dargah.

Police used mild force to disperse a group of advocates who had gathered at Favvara circle to show black flags to the Prime Minister in his way back to the Ghughra helipad. The VVIP cavalcade, however, passed through a different route and reached the helipad, police said.

The Pakistani delegation was received at the main gate of the Dargah, Nizam gate, by the bodies of Khadims (clerics).

As he stepped into the Dargah, Ashraf was welcomed by the beating of drums (Shadiyane) as per the traditions and customs of the shrine.

The delegation then proceeded towards the Aastana (shrine) after passing through Shahjahani gate, Buland darwaja, Sandali gate and Ahta-e-Noor (boundary of the main shrine).

Before getting into the shrine from Begami Dalan (main entrance of the shrine), he was introduced to shrine keys holders (baridar).

The Premer then performed ґFateha (supplication) and went around the premises through mosques, graves of the KhwajaԒs disciples and two big cauldrons used for cooking food during the annual Urs.

Ashraf and his delegation landed at Ghughra helipad on the outskirts of the city by helicopters from Jaipur where External Affairs Salman Khurshid hosted a lunch for the guests.

Police and District administration officials received the dignitary before they moved to the Dargah sharif by road from the helipad--a distance of 13 km.

Dargah committee CEO Mohammd Afzal received them inside the shrine after his entry from the Nizam gate.

He was also honoured by the Dargah committee at Buland darwaja before his departure to the helipad.

The Dargah premises was evacuated after noon for the visit and only pass holders were allowed to stay inside the dargah during the visit of Ashraf and his family members.

Ajmer Sharif Dargah Diwan, Zainul Abedin Ali Khan said he will not welcome the visiting dignitary.

"Welcoming Pakistans PM would be the insult of the martyrdom of our soldiers because Pakistan neither took action against guilty despite protest of our government nor return the head of our soldier so I boycotted his visit," the Dargah's spiritual head said yesterday.

As per tradition, the Ajmer Sharif Dargah Diwan receives VVIPS when they arrive at the Dargah.

Khan's boycott will be largely symbolic because he is seen as a ceremonial head. The Khadims, who control the 12th century shrine of Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, escort visiting dignitaries and assist pilgrims at the dargah.

General Ayub Khan, Gen Zia-ul-Haq, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto, Pervez Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari were among the previous Pakistani leaders to offer obeisance at the revered shrine in the past.

The Pakistan Prime Minister and Khurshid discussed each other's personal interest and also shared their experiences and views about other shrines including Data Durbar in Lahore.

"There was usual lunch-time talks. No substantive talks on Indo-Pak issues were held," they said.

Ashraf's visit was unlike his President Asif Ali Zardari's trip who came on a day-long visit last April and made a three-hour stopover in New Delhi before flying to Ajmer.

Singh had hosted lunch for the visiting Pakistani President and two leaders also held comprehensive talks on bilateral issues.

Prime Minister Ashraf has a close relationship with Bilal Chishti, the 'Pir' of the shrine at Ajmer.

Chishti met Ashraf twice in Islamabad last year, in December and August. During the meeting in August, Chishti invited the premier to visit Ajmer.

Ashraf accepted the invitation and said he would visit Ajmer at "the first available opportunity".

The shrine in Ajmer is revered by many people in Pakistan, including top political leaders.

After their over one-hour long luncheon meeting, Khurshid said, "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 was replying to a question by a newsman 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.

Khurshid said the lunch for Ashraf was hosted as a matter of courtesy and in keeping with the post he holds.

"We agreed for his programme and everything was done in this backdrop," he said.

On opposition parties, including the BJP, questioning the need to welcome the Pakistan Prime Minister, Khurshid said, "They just have to look at their own history and they would know why".

The brief trip of 62-year-old Ashraf to the 13th century shrine hit a sour note following a boycott by the Dargahs spiritual head in protest against the recent brutal killing and beheading of Indian soldiers by the Pakistani Army.

Opposing the Pakistan premier's visit, local lawyers, some BJP activists and representatives of markets associations staged protests and shouted anti-Pakistan slogans.

"...I wish for peace in the world and for peace and prosperity in Pakistan," Ashraf wrote in Urdu in the visitors book after spending 30 minutes at the shrine.

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. Ashraf took a special flight to Islamabad on Saturday evening after winding up his day-long personal visit to the shrine of Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti at Ajmer.

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