New Delhi: Indian industrialist Sajjan Jindal’s presence in Pakistan has again strengthened opposition firepower in that country against Nawaz Sharif, with speculation rife that his meeting with the Pakistani prime minister was to deliver a “secret” message from Narendra Modi.
On Thursday, Pakistani media splashed reports about a “secret meeting” between JSW group MD Sajjan Jindal and Nawaz Sharif, a day earlier. In the past, Indian journalist Barkha Dutt has claimed that Jindal – a billionaire with a steel empire who is known to be close to both Modi and Nawaz Sharif – was a go-between for the two leaders. This had been strenuously denied by both India and Pakistan, officially. However, a sighting of Jindal in Pakistan on the same day as Prime Minister Modi’s unannounced Lahore visit in December 2015 had further fuelled these speculation about a ‘back channel’ even as an official Indian spokesman denied the connection on the record.
With relations between India and Pakistan currently at rock-bottom, the grapevine again went on over-drive, speculating about the reasons for Jindal’s visit – especially whether he had come to discuss the situation arising out of the conviction of Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former Indian naval officer, for espionage and the imposition of the death penalty on him by a field general court martial of the Pakistani military earlier this month.
News of Jindal’s visit was likely leaked to the Pakistani media by the intelligence services. It is possible that Wednesday’s ‘coincidental’ release of a ‘confessional video’ by a surrendered Pakistani terrorist, Ehsanullah Ehsan – in which he alleges that India’s RAW was behind the Pakistani Taliban – was also part of a flanking manoeuvre by a military establishment wary of Nawaz Sharif going off the reservation. Ehsanullah had surrendered to the Pakistani military on April 17.
On Thursday, India responded to Ehsanullah’s charges. “We know the value of such coerced ‘confessions’,” the spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs said. “All that they reflect is a mindset on the part of those who put out such coerced ‘Confessions’, which believes that others in the world also do what they do.”
While South Block sources denied any knowledge of the Indian businessman’s Islamabad latest visit, Nawaz Sharif’s daughter took to Twitter on Thursday night to deny there was anything “secret” about the meeting between Sharif and his “old friend”, Sajjan Jindal.
Mr. Jindal is an old friend of the Prime Minister. Nothing 'secret' about the meeting & should not be blown out of proportion. Thank you.
— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) April 27, 2017
However, the denial came a bit too late, with the opposition already sharpening its knives.
Pakistan People’s Party senator Sherry Rehman announced that she had submitted an adjournment motion to discuss the “secret meeting” in parliament.
— SherryRehman'sOffice (@SRehmanOffice) April 27, 2017
In Pakistan’s Punjab assembly, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf tabled a resolution on the meeting between Sharif and Jindal.
The resolution states that the ‘Indian delegation’ flew to Pakistan to rescue the beleaguered Prime Minister. The resolution demanded that the house and the people of Pakistan be informed of the reasons behind the visit.
According to Pakistani news channel, ARY news, Jindal was part of a three-member Indian delegation which met with Sharif in the hill station of Murree, just outside Islamabad.
ARY reported that Jindal arrived in Pakistan in a special flight from Kabul on Wednesday morning. “The delegation have either came with a special message from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or related to the fate of the convicted Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, analysts say while talking on the visit,” the channel’s report said.
Citing ‘sources’, Samaa TV claimed that Jindal’s visit was to “pave the way for a meeting between Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an emerging economic and security alliance”.
The SCO summit is due to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan on June 8 and 9, 2017. Both Modi and Nawaz Sharif have confirmed their attendance.