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Opposition lawmakers raise questions on Jindal’s visit in NA committee meeting

ISLAMABAD: Moving away from the meeting’s agenda, members of the opposition present during a session of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs on Friday questioned why the government had remained silent regarding the visit of Indian business tycoon Sajjan Jindal.

An unannounced meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a visiting Indian business tycoon at the hill resort town of Murree a few days earlier had triggered intense speculation in the country.

Several politicians and analysts suggested that the meeting could be a precursor to a possible meeting between the premier and his Indian counterpart in the near future.

During Friday’s committee meeting, held at the Foreign Office, members raised questions about Jindal’s arrival in Pakistan.

“Why is the government quiet in regards to the visit of Jindal?” asked PPP’s Nafeesa Shah.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf’s (PTI) chief whip Shireen Mazari questioned how the tycoon visited Murree when he only had a visa for two cities — Lahore and Islamabad.

“If he [Jindal] has come on a private visit, why did we receive reports regarding his welcome through the Foreign Office?” Mazari additionally asked.

Defending the government and attempting to redirect attention back to the meeting’s agenda, committee chairman Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari said Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb had given a clear statement regarding the Indian tycoon’s visit.

The businessman is known for being close to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also has a friendly relationship with PM Nawaz.

Some seasoned analysts said Jindal’s visit could be part of some backchannel contact to improve relations between the two countries.

Informed sources also pointed out that it’s not possible for Jindal to visit Pakistan without prior knowledge of the country’s civilian and military intelligence services.

PTI seeks government’s response
PTI later submitted an adjournment motion to the National Assembly secretariat seeking postponement of the agenda set for the next session of the National Assembly.

The motion, filed by MNA Murad Saeed, asked the House to seek a response from the government regarding Jindal’s visit.

“Jindal’s secret visit to Pakistan after [Indian spy] Kulbhashan Yadhav has been awarded the death sentence is significant,” Saeed wrote in the motion.

He also questioned why the prime minister’s staff and the Foreign Office had kept information regarding the two men who accompanied the Indian businessman ‘hidden’.

“The prime minister welcomed Jindal into Pakistan keeping the country’s law aside,” it was alleged in the motion.

Jindal heads the JSW Group, which specialises in steel, energy and infrastructure projects. His younger brother, former Congress party lawmaker Naveen Jindal, is chairman of the umbrella Jindal Group.

Jindal’s relationship with the Sharifs is no secret: he was an honoured guest at the wedding of the prime minister’s granddaughter in December 2015, the same occasion where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also a guest.

In her book, This Unquiet Land, Indian journalist Barkha Dutt describes Mr Jindal as “the unexpected conduit [between PMs Sharif and Modi] with movie-star looks”.

“When Sharif was in Delhi, Jindal hosted a tea party for the Pakistani premier right after his meeting with Modi. It attracted little attention in the Indian media but in Pakistan, Sharif drew flak for finding time for Jindal and not for Kashmiri separatists,” she wrote.

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