IN A RARE gesture amid the chill in diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan, the Pakistan High Commission’s defence and army advisor Brig Chaudhary Amir Ajmal was invited to the Republic Day parade last week, sources told The Indian Express.
The last such invitation was extended in January 2014, before the NDA government came to power, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the chief guest. The advisor is the top-ranking serving Pakistan Army official in India and heads the High Commission’s defence wing. Currently, there are two more officials in the wing, one each from the Navy and Air Force.
Government sources said Brigadier Ajmal had sought an invitation, and was sent one last week through the Ministry of External Affairs’s protocol division and not through the usual contact point, the Defence Intelligence Agency. He was extended “due courtesy” along with officials of similar rank from other countries in the VVIP enclosure on Rajpath, said sources.
The invitation was sent a few days after Pakistan sent back Chandu Babulal Chavan, an Indian soldier who had crossed the Line of Control last year.
Following Chavan’s return, Pakistan’s foreign ministry had said that despite Indian belligerence, Pakistan believes in “peaceful neighbourhood and rejects all actions aimed at undermining regional peace and security”. Indian Army officials, however, had maintained that such incidents of people crossing the frontier by mistake have happened in the past from both sides, and that they were usually sent back.
Sources said that during the initial debriefing of the 22-year-old soldier from 37 Rashtriya Rifles, he did not complain of any torture and said that he had been treated well. “The treatment meted out to the Indian soldier had led to a certain lowering of temperature between the two armies, and this invitation needs to be seen in that context,” government sources told The Indian Express.
Pakistani diplomatic sources, however, pointed to the “restrained and measured” response by their Army even as they disputed the “surgical strikes” conducted by the Indian Army last September. “The new Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has a mature worldview, although he is personally quite aggressive,” said sources, explaining the decision to return Chavan.
The last time such an outreach surprised many was when the then ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha attended the Iftar dinner at the Indian High Commission in September 2009.
With such invitations depending on the state of ties between the two countries, Islamabad is likely to respond in a “positive manner” in the coming months — Pakistan hosts a similar parade on March 23.