Tuesday February 27, 2024

Invitation to Hurriyat leaders: India boycotts Pakistan Day event

The government of India has decided not to send any official representative to the Pakistan National Day event at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi

March 24, 2019

NEW DELHI: In a significant departure from practice, the Indian government officially boycotted the Pakistan National Day reception in New Delhi on Friday evening over an invitation to the Hurriyat leaders.

“The government of India has decided not to send any official representative to the Pakistan National Day event at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, according to the Indian media.

Despite the official boycott in New Delhi, Modi did send formal greetings on the Pakistan’s National Day to Prime Minister Imran Khan. Although Modi did not tweet it from his official or personal Twitter handles, it was Imran Khan who tweeted Modi’s message to him. “Received message from PM Modi: “I extend my greetings & best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that ppl (sic) of sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.”

The MEA spokesperson Kumar said the government’s decision to boycott was due to the invitation to the Hurriyat and is seen as part of the recent measures against separatist and extremist elements in Kashmir like the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and the proscription of Yasin Malik’s Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). The MEA spokesperson said Indian diplomats, including the high commissioner would not attend any Pakistan Day celebrations in Islamabad either. The Indian diplomats have been asked to stay away in every country where Pakistan Day is celebrated by its mission. In the past four years, Union ministers V K Singh, M J Akbar, G S Shekhawat and Prakash Javadekar have been the government representatives to the Pakistan Day reception. India’s offical absence was noted as the event was largely attended by the diplomatic community in New Delhi.

On Friday, at the Pakistani High Commission’s National Day reception there was no chief guest on the dais from the host country, but the Indian national anthem was sung first in accordance with the protocol as the diplomats and guests stood on the lawns of the High Commission. The formal part of the event began with the Pakistan's High Commissioner, Sohail Mehmood, going on the specially built dais. In previous years, he escorted the chief guest, but this time, he was accompanied by his wife.

The Indian government machinery was being used to ensure that there was sparse attendance at the reception. Outside the gates, the Indian invitees were being told by the policemen in mufti to listen to their “conscience” and turn back. The argument put forth by India for the boycott of the Pakistan Day reception was that the Pakistan High Commission had invited Hurriyat leaders. In the last four years, Pakistan has always invited Hurriyat leaders, but Indian ministers had still attended the event. After the announcement of the boycott, invitees to the reception found themselves under the government’s gaze. There was a heightened security presence and manned barriers were set up all around the High Commission's building located in the Diplomatic Enclave.

At a barrier set up before entry into the Pakistan High Commission, cars with Indian numbers plates were being stopped, while diplomatic vehicles breezed through. Once stopped, an Indian official in civilian clothes – and sometimes a uniformed Delhi police officer – asked the car’s occupants whether they were attending the reception. If they replied in the positive, all of them got the same message. Another invitee said an official told him that India is a democracy and therefore, the message is just a request. “I told him that this is a democracy and that’s why I am going,” he stated. One of the many invitees was Jawahar Lal Sareen, a former IAS officer, who has been attending to Pakistan's national day celebrations for years. “I was born in Lahore,” he said. With his wife next to him, 74-year-old Sareen asserted that he was told not to attend the annual reception. “This is the first time ever that this has happened with me.” When he said that his plans remained unchanged, Sareen said the Indian officials not only took details of his identification documents, but also photographed his car number plate.

Former Planning Commission member Syeda Saiyidain Hameed also said her details were noted down by an Indian official. “They also took a picture of my invitation card,” she said. Similarly, journalists covering the event were also ‘advised’ not to attend. If they insisted that their presence was part of their professional work, their names and phone numbers were taken down. “I was told that the Indian government has boycotted the event and therefore, it is up to our conscience whether to attend the event. He suggested that it would be better if we don’t,” said a journalist who was attending the reception on assignment. A senior journalist of a business paper said she couldn’t remember this kind of restriction even after after the Kargil war.

None of the senior Hurriyat leaders came for the reception, with most of them either behind bars or facing travel restrictions. However, the Delhi police detained a Kashmiri human rights activist, Mohammad Ahsan Untoo, just before he entered the Pakistan High Commission. Untoo, who runs an organisation called the International Forum of Justice and Human Rights, had recently met Yasin Malik.