Rajnath Singh Arrives in Islamabad Amid Protests; Sharif Raises Kashmir Issue

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrives in Islamabad to attend the SAARC summit for interior ministers. Credit: PTI

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrives in Islamabad to attend the SAARC summit for interior ministers. Credit: PTI

Home minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday for the SAARC Interior Ministers’ conference. Singh and his delegation have been provided with tight security in response to the various threats and protests against his presence in Pakistan. Before leaving for Pakistan, Singh tweeted:

Followed closely by another tweet emphasising security concerns:

Even as Singh landed in Islamabad, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the Kashmir issue instructing Pakistani diplomats to inform the world that Kashmir was not just India’s domestic issue, the Indian Express reported. In the aftermath of Indian forces killing Hizbul associated Burhan Wani in Kashmir in July this year, Sharif praised Wani and also added that “Kashmir will one day become Pakistan”, the report said.

Singh’s arrival in Pakistan was also preceded by protests led by Hafiz Saeed, leader of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), which serves as a front for Lashkar-e-Toiba. Saeed led a protest rally in Lahore, that included activists from All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Hizbul Mujahideen, United Jihad Council (UJC) and other groups, who hold the home minister responsible for the current unrest in Kashmir. PTI quoted Saeed as saying, “We were not expecting that the Pakistani rulers would welcome Singh who is responsible for the killings of innocent Kashmiris.” Additionally, Mishal Malik, the wife of Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, is holding a hunger strike in Islamabad to protest Singh’s presence in the country. There were also protests in Rawalpindi with people shouting anti-India slogans.

Though there is no official procedure for receiving a state’s home minister, Singh was received at the airport by Dr. Muhammad Faisal, director general of the SAARC and South Asia in Pakistan’s foreign ministry and Indian high commissioner Gautam Bambawale, reported The Hindu.

A PTI report said that discussions at the conference will include terrorism as well as other key issues such as liberalisation of visa, illegal trafficking in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and small arms and how to make coordinated and concerted efforts to combat such menaces.” It added, “The focus of the meeting will also be on strengthening networking among police forces of SAARC member-countries and also enhancing information-sharing among law enforcement agencies.”

Tuesday’s agenda for the meeting involved discussions on visa reform and immigration procedures within SAARC countries. The Dawn reported, “Visa reforms on the agenda included a more streamlined and centralised system to process visas between SAARC countries as well as the potential introduction of SAARC Visa Exemptions (SVEs) for three categories: officials, artists and businessmen.” The report added, “Wednesday’s closed-door session with home ministers discussed counter-terrorism as well as strategies to counter human and drug trafficking.”

So far today, Singh and his international counterparts are meeting with Pakistan’s prime minister to continue talks. The Financial Express reported, “India has placed 3-4 proposals, offered technical assistance to STOMD (SAARC Terror Offences Monitoring Desk), says home secretary Mehrishi.”

As talks progress at the multilateral level, the Indian government has ruled out any possibility of bilateral talks with Pakistan given rising tensions over the current conflict in Kashmir.