Five days, one hour and 15 minutes after Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar warned Islamabad of an “effective and forceful response” to unprovoked firing and cross-border terrorism, that discordant note was drowned by greetings and laughter at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi where Indians and Pakistanis gathered Tuesday for an Eid Milan over seekh kebabs, malai tikkas, vegetarian fare, kheer and gulab jamuns.
High Commissioner Abdul Basit, who had invited nearly 200 Indian “friends” via WhatsApp and email, mingled with the guests who searched out food tables in the parking lot — most headed to the parking slot reserved for the Counsellor-Press because that was where the kebabs and tikkas were being served.
The formal “meet and greet” with the Pakistan envoy took place in the meeting hall with white walls adorned with paintings of Pakistan’s tourist spots and a lone picture of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It was in this very hall in February 2010 that then Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir had called India’s documentary evidence on Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed a “piece of literature”.
But all that seemed to be in the past as Indians and Pakistanis greeted each other, and downed colas and juices. Basit, on his part, said India and Pakistan should move “from confrontation to cooperation” and resolve issues, especially Kashmir, through dialogue.
“We want relations to improve. We should live like good neighbours and become an instrument for each other’s development. We have seen 67 years of conflict. We should move from confrontation to cooperation. We pray this becomes possible… Our wish is that all disputes, particularly Kashmir, should be resolved through dialogue,” he said.
It was his meeting with Hurriyat leaders that led to cancellation of Foreign Secretary-level talks in August last year. While the Pakistan High Commission usually invites notables from the Muslim community for an Iftar party — it always includes Hurriyat leaders — this time it was “postponed” in the run-up to the meeting between prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in the Russian city of Ufa. The official reason cited though were the deaths in Karachi.
Ufa over and Eid approaching, Basit called the Hurriyat leaders and friends for supper, and called it Eid Milan — the first, in at least seven years, to hosted by a Pakistan envoy. Most Hurriyat leaders boycotted the event owing to no mention of Kashmir in the joint statement issued after the Modi-Sharif meeting.
The moderate separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was the only high-profile Hurriyat leader who showed up. While Basit thanked the Mirwaiz for flying from Jammu and Kashmir to attend the gathering — thereby making a point — the latter conveyed his “concern” over non-inclusion of Kashmir in the Ufa talks.
Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, who famously invited Nawaz Sharif and not Modi, for his son’s wedding last October, was also present. So was Ved Pratap Vaidik, who grabbed headlines when he met Hafiz Saeed in July last year. At the Eid Milan, he was regaling all who cared to listen with his account of the meeting with Saeed. Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Congress minister and a veteran of several Track-II initiatives, was also there.
In diplomacy, they say, a meeting is successful if the next one has been planned. As the Eid Milan drew to a close, one group of Indians and Pakistanis planned for the latest Indo-Pak blockbuster “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”.