After intense and often hysterical debate over the last few days, the utterly pointless controversy surrounding the meeting between Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed and senior Indian journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik shows no signs of abating.
The Congress party has accused the Narendra Modi government of using Vaidik as an emissary for establishing back-channel contacts with the LeT chief, a charge External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj rejected in Parliament on Tuesday. Senior Congress leaders have demanded that Vaidik be arrested and interrogated for meeting Saeed and that his passport be impounded, as has at least one junior BJP leader, Subramanian Swamy.
Some BJP spokespersons and hypernationalist TV channels have also sought to link Vaidik’s meeting to a Track-II conference held in Islamabad by the Regional Peace Institute on June 14 which brought together individuals from India and Pakistan to discuss the state of the bilateral relationship.
Vaidik was one of those who attended. So was I, alongside well-known public personalities, including senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, who headed the Indian delegation, former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, Ambassador N.N. Jha from the BJP’s foreign affairs department, and Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former adviser to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani.
Each participant took part in the conference in his or her individual capacity and not as the representative of any party or organisation, let alone government.
After the event ended, we all dispersed. Vaidik had managed to get a three-week visa, so he stayed behind. What he chose to do during that time was his own business.
During the conference, Vaidik often advertised his proximity to the Sangh Parivar and Prime Minister Modi, about whom there is a lot of curiosity in Pakistan. I have no knowledge about the validity of his claims but it was perhaps for this reason that many Pakistani interlocutors — among and beyond the participants of the Track-II conference — sought him out and were eager to hear his views. Rightly or wrongly, they thought they would get an insight into Modi’s thinking.
At some stage during his stay in Pakistan, he chose to meet Hafiz Saeed. He says he met the LeT chief in his capacity as a journalist. One can question the wisdom of such a meeting but certainly not his right as a journalist to have done so.
By all accounts, Hafiz Saeed is not all that easy to meet. He is a prime asset of the ISI and is closely monitored by the agency. Vaidik’s movements would also have been tracked by the ISI.
So if the two men met, it is reasonable to conclude that people within the Pakistani intelligence establishment did not object to their meeting. One reason may be that they too were curious about why a man who has excellent contacts within the Sangh Parivar wanted to meet India’s Public Enemy No. 1.
It is worth noting that news of the meeting came continued…