‘PM in hot water’: How Pak media reacted to steel magnate Sajjan Jindal’s meeting with Nawaz Sharif


Indian business magnate Sajjan Jindal’s surprise meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has triggered intense speculation across the border, with the Pakistani media reporting that it could have been part of back channel contacts aimed at reviving the stalled bilateral dialogue.

The meeting was also criticised by Pakistan’s opposition parties because it came against the backdrop of heightened tensions. Though Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz tweeted there was nothing “secret” about the meeting, parties such as Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf expressed concern over the development.

Jindal and a small delegation flew into Rawalpindi from Kabul in a private aircraft on Wednesday. After a brief meeting at the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad, the Indian delegation was driven to the nearby resort of Murree for a meeting with Sharif over lunch.

In a front page report headlined “PM in hot water over ‘secret’ meeting with Indian tycoon”, The Express Tribune said Sharif had “found himself caught in another storm on Thursday, this time over a furtive huddle with an Indian steel magnate which is being labelled as back-channel diplomacy”.

The report described Jindal, the head of JSW Group, as a “close friend” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said the meeting was believed to be part of “back channel diplomacy to arrange a meeting” between Sharif and Modi on the margins of the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Astana in June.

The influential Dawn newspaper said in a front page report that Jinadal’s visit had “triggered intense speculations…with several politicians and analysts suggesting it could be the precursor to a possible meeting between the Pakistani and Indian premiers in the near future”.

“Informed sources point out that it’s not possible for Mr Jindal to visit Pakistan without prior knowledge of the country’s civilian and military intelligence services,” the report added.

The front page report in The News daily was headlined “Politics or business? Indian steel tycoon Jindal meets PM in Murree”. It said the meeting was “sought by the Indian delegation supposed to play a role for reduction in tensions”. The meeting could also “help in paving the way for a meeting” between Sharif and Modi at the SCO Summit in Astana.

The News quoted its sources as saying that Pakistan has no plan to seek a meeting with the Indian prime minister but “could consider if the request was made by New Delhi”.

Pakistan’s opposition parties express concern over meeting

Angry opposition parties protested against the meeting. The PTI moved a resolution in the Punjab Assembly expressing “grave concern” over the development.

The resolution, submitted by Leader of Opposition Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed, said the meeting became a matter of concern since the government tried to keep it “secret” against the backdrop of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir.

“In these circumstances, Narendra Modi’s close aide’s meeting with (the) Pakistani prime minister has sent a wave of restlessness among (the) masses,” the resolution said. “Has Sajjan Jindal come to Pakistan to rescue Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently embroiled in crisis?” Rasheed asked.

Senior Pakistan People’s Party leader Sherry Rehman was quoted by The Express Tribune as saying: “Given that this is yet another meeting held at a high level without the knowledge of the Foreign Office, it is high time that the people of Pakistan are taken into confidence about what transpires in such meetings.”

Rehman submitted an adjournment motion in the Senate or upper house of Parliament that said: “It is widely reported that the prime minister of Pakistan has had an unofficial meeting with Indian steel magnate Sajjan Jindal, who is on some diplomatic mission for Narendra Modi. The matter is of urgent public importance and the House may adjourn other business to discuss vital issues.”

There has been no official word from the Pakistan government on the meeting.

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