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Advani In Karachi: More Than A Nostalgia Trip

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Beena Sarwar


"There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history. But there are a few who actually create history. Qaed-e-Azam Mohd Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual," commented India's opposition leader and Bharatiya Janata Party president Lal Krishna Advani in the visitors book at the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, known in Pakistan as the Quaid-e-Azam or Great Leader.

These words, and indeed his very visit to the Quaid's Mazar appear to be attempts to dissociate himself from the Sangh Parivar's pet 'Akhand Bharat' (indivisible India) slogan, as he already did in Lahore recently by acknowledging the emergence of India and Pakistan as an
"unalterable reality of history."

A PTI report said Mr. Advani described Jinnah as ``a great man'' who had espoused the cause of secular Pakistan in an address to his country's Constitutent Assembly. Jinnah's August 11, 2020 address was really ``a classic, a forceful espousal of a secular state in which while every citizen would be free to pursue his own religion, the state should make no distinction between one citizen and another on grounds of faith. My respectful homage to this great man.''

Advani and his family arrived in his birthplace Karachi late Friday night, on the last leg of their visit to Pakistan. Advani's first stop on Saturday morning was not his old school, or the house he grew up in, but the Mazar that he and his family visited amidst tight security. He laid a wreath on the grave to the sounding of bugles by the Mazar's naval guard and stood in silence as a cleric offered Fateha (prayers). He then took his time writing in the Visitor's Book.

He also paid his respects at the graves of Pakistan's first prime minister Liaqat Ali Khan, and Jinnah's sister, Fatima, who played an important role in Pakistan's politics after her brother's death. Their graves, located in the same mausoleum, have a different entrance. Advani also spent some time at the site museum where several items used by Jinnah are displayed.

Talking to the media, Advani himself termed his visit to the Mazar as a "milestone" in improving Pakistan-India relations. The gesture is reminiscent of former Indian Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee's historic trip to Lahore in 1999, when he visited the Minar-e-Pakistan that is
considered a symbol of the idea of Pakistan. Both visits apparently sought to counter the widespread belief in Pakistan that India has never accepted its very existence.

Pakistan is not pressing forward with the FIR lodged at Karachi's Jamshed Quarters police station, on September 10, 1947, against Advani, then an RSS organiser in Karachi, and 17 others for allegedly conspiring to kill Jinnah and other leaders. News of the FIR was leaked to the media when Advani in 2002 presented Musharraf with India's most-wanted list of criminals that Pakistan was allegedly harbouring. The government now says it is unaware of any criminal case against Advani.

This should suit Advani, who has repeatedly stated during his Pakistan visit that the past should be left behind, particularly to awkward questions about his role in the failure of the Agra talks, the demolition of the Babri Mosque and the targeting of Muslims in Gujarat.

Things have in any case changed a great deal since Advani's last visit to Pakistan in 1979 as Information and Broadcasting Minister -geo-political realities and relations between India and Pakistan, to name some. Karachi itself, a quiet but sophisticated seaside town of some 400,000 in 1947, is now the country's largest city and business and commercial capital, bursting with 15 million inhabitants.

What remains almost unchanged despite various additions to its basic sandstone structure, is Advani's alma mater, St Patricks Boy's School in the heart of Karachi's busy Saddar district, now surrounded by an electronic market. Coincidentally, President General Parvez Musharraf and Pakistan's banker Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz are also alumni of St Pat's, as it is locally known. One of the major collateral benefits of the rapprochement between India and Pakistan is not just the restoration of physical links like roads and railways but the chance to
restore links with the past. At least for Musharraf, this restored link brought an unexpected benefit when he learnt that he is two years younger than he had thought, thanks to his old school records in Delhi, being dug out and presented to him by the Manmohan Singh government.

Musharraf had earlier surprised Singh with a photo album and records from Singh's old school in Gah, in the Pakistani Punjab. One of Advani's primary motives for visiting Pakistan along with his family may well have been the chance to visit his birthplace, where he lived for twenty years before migrating after Partition. However, he has in the past turned down invitations to visit Pakistan, despite admittedly feeling nostalgic about Karachi. In a television interview in Islamabad earlier, Advani clarified that he had nothing to do with Advani Street in Hyderabad's Shahi Bazaar, and had never lived there.

Going to St Pat's after the Mazar visit, Advani was accorded a warm reception although school holidays in Karachi are already underway. He then called on the Governor of Sindh, Ishrat-ul-Ibad, of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party that draws support primarily from "Urdu-speaking" migrants from north India.

Talking to reporters at Governor House Karachi, Advani reiterated what he has been saying during his Pakistan trip, that the present rapprochement process would have been inconceivable four or five years ago. He also reminded everyone again that it was his party that actually started the dialogue process, not just with Pakistan, but
also with the Kashmiri Hurriyet Conference leaders who are coincidentally visiting Pakistan these days. Advani added that the diversity of the Jammu and Kashmir region must be kept in mind, along with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people as the dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue gets underway.

Adjani lunched at the residence of Hakim Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's father-in-law, in Old Clifton. The area with its gracious old bungalows and wide roads lined with ancient trees houses the Consulate General of India's residence, in disuse since the Indian Consulate was shut down
in 1995. Ten years on, the possibilities of its being re-opened have never seemed brighter.

This article was published in "The News" Pakistan.

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