Pakistan foreign secretary Jilani with Advani in New Delhi on Thursday. (AFP)
New Delhi, July 5: Nine years ago, India expelled one Jalil Abbas Jilani, chargé d’affaires or acting high commissioner for Pakistan, for allegedly supplying funds to Hurriyat leaders.
For the past two days, the same man has been India’s guest, discussing with foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai how to improve trust between their two countries.
Jilani, now Pakistan’s foreign secretary, wrapped up the two-day talks with Mathai in New Delhi this evening.
His February 8, 2003, expulsion — just over a year after the December 2001 Parliament attack — had turned into an ugly affair, prompting Islamabad to retaliate by showing the door to Indian envoy Sudhir Vyas.
Today, Jilani did not forget to make a “courtesy call” on a man whose hawkish stand on Pakistan had been instrumental in his expulsion. He dropped in at the bungalow of L.K. Advani, the then home minister whose department had pushed Delhi police to compile evidence against Jilani.
If the meeting was testimony to the unpredictability of India-Pakistan relations, it also underlined that personal ties between the players are not necessarily affected by political and diplomatic decisions. Jilani stressed the personal angle at his joint media interaction with Mathai today.
The Pakistani foreign secretary, who had spent several years in Delhi, said: “It is a great pleasure for me to be back in this historic city. I am delighted to meet my old friends and colleagues.”
On Tuesday, Jilani even met Hurriyat leaders at the Pakistan high commission office. It is nearly a ritual for Pakistan’s foreign ministers and foreign secretaries to meet Hurriyat leaders when visiting India, and South Block never objects. Still, few would have missed the irony considering the reason Jilani was expelled for.
Sources said South Block had neither protested, nor planned to protest, against Jilani’s meeting with the separatists.
“How can we, when the two foreign secretaries discussed Jammu and Kashmir? Let us not blow this out of proportion,” a government source said.
Because of the long years he spent in India, Jilani has many friends among Indian officials. He had been Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner and then acting high commissioner in New Delhi from 1999 to 2003 till he was declared persona non grata.
For at least part of his Delhi stint, Jilani stayed at a rented south Delhi house that belonged to a senior Indian diplomat who was posted abroad at the time.
But things heated up in February 2003. India officially accused Jilani of “indulging in activities incompatible with his official status”. He was given just 48 hours to leave India though an expelled diplomat is usually given seven days. Four other Pakistan high commission officials were expelled too.
The then Indian foreign ministry spokesperson had said that Jilani’s activities “were not meant to improve relations”.
“These are not the activities of a diplomat, neither normal nor keeping with his status. We have taken our action based on hard evidence,” the spokesperson had said.
“The circumstances of the case necessitate a very serious view to be taken by the Government of India and this has been done.”
Within hours, Pakistan expelled Vyas, giving him 48 hours too. India accused Pakistan of pursuing the path of “confrontation, compulsive hostility and brinkmanship” and termed its action a “pure and simple act of unmerited retaliation”. Pakistan described India’s move as “diplomatic terrorism”.
But, sources said, Jilani visited India a dozen times after his expulsion, in his capacity as Pakistan’s director-general of South Asia and Saarc between 2003 and 2007. The career diplomat is a specialist in South Asian affairs and was director of the Pakistan foreign ministry’s India desk from 1992 to 1995.
Over the years, the police case against Jilani and Hurriyat leaders has meandered to a halt. Little has been proved, suggesting politics and the backdrop of the Parliament attack — which saw a border standoff between the two militaries — had contributed to Jilani’s expulsion.
Sources said Advani’s hard line, as opposed to then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s more moderate stance on Pakistan, had led to Jilani’s expulsion. That did not stop Advani from receiving the Pakistani diplomat warmly today and having a half hour’s private discussion with him.
Chances are that Vyas, who has a few years of service left, may become India’s foreign secretary in a couple of years and end up visiting Pakistan. Currently, he is secretary (economic relations) in the foreign ministry.
At the talks, Pakistan today rejected the “insinuation” that its state agencies were involved in acts of terrorism in India, and proposed a joint investigation into the purported revelations by 26/11 suspect Abu Jundal.
The two sides agreed to promote bilateral sports contacts but put the onus of working out the details of the resumption of cricket ties on the two cricket boards. Mathai’s remark that “there are issues of security as well” suggested that the political leadership would need a lot of effort to convince the Indian board and players to visit Pakistan.