Pakistan PM receives mixed signals from New Delhi

In this photograph released by the Press Information Department (PID) on Aug. 18, 2018, newly appointed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) meets with members of the 1992 Cricket world cup team and former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu (top R) in Islamabad. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018

Pakistan PM receives mixed signals from New Delhi

  • Modi congratulates Khan, but BJP slams hug between Navjot Singh Sidhu and Pakistani Army chief
  • I felt too much love and affection from Pakistan when I was there, says Sidhu

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday congratulated Imran Khan on becoming Pakistan’s premier.
In a letter to his counterpart, Modi expressed the need for constructive and meaningful bilateral engagement.
He also expressed his commitment to peaceful, neighborly relations, and stressed the need for a terror-free South Asia.
But Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticized Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu for visiting Islamabad to participate in Khan’s swearing-in ceremony.
The BJP demanded Sidhu’s sacking from the post of Cabinet minister in Punjab province, and asked the opposition Congress Party to “sack him from the party for hugging” Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani Army chief.
The hug “is not an ordinary thing,” said BJP spokesman Sambit Patra, adding that Sidhu “is not an ordinary man but a minister in the Punjab government, and every Indian has taken this issue very seriously.”
Sidiq Wahid, a Kashmiri scholar and senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, told Arab News: “The muscular nationalism practiced by the Hindu right-wing BJP treats other nationalists as the enemy.”
He said: “I see hope for meaningful talks with Pakistan only when there’s a dramatic change in the current trajectory of Indian politics.”
When contacted by Arab News, Sidhu declined to comment, but upon his return to India he said: “I pray for the people who criticized me, but I felt too much love and affection from Pakistan when I was there.”
Vinod Sharma, political editor of the Hindustan Times, told Arab News that “it’s unbecoming of a mature democracy” to raise the issue of Sidhu visiting and hugging Bajwa.
“India isn’t that weak as to not let an Indian be hugged by the Pakistani Army chief. The paranoia of the right-wing fringe is a gross misrepresentation of a great democracy that India happens to be,” Sharma said.
“The Hindu right wing is adept at creating India-Pakistan, Hindu-Muslim binaries for political-electoral gains,” he added.
“It’s a dangerous game, and in the name of defending India they’re hurting its time-tested, inclusive character.”
But Robin Singh, a Punjab-based journalist and civil rights activist, said: “Sidhu crossed his brief while visiting Pakistan. He forgot that he is a public representative, and should have kept in mind the troubled relationship between India and Pakistan. By hugging the army chief, he has hurt the sentiment of people in India.”
The Congress Party has refused to comment on the issue, terming it “a personal visit of Sidhu to meet his friend.”
Sharma said this “polarizing debate is disturbing and aimed at sheer electoral dividends,” blaming “a section of the Indian media for the propagation of binaries to enhance their market share.”
He added: “It’s a self-defeating pursuit as it doesn’t leave the audience educated on complex foreign policy issues.”

Scores dead in bomb attacks across Sri Lankan capital

Updated 4 min 5 sec ago

Scores dead in bomb attacks across Sri Lankan capital

  • The churches hit were in the north of the capital, and the town of Negombo, just outside Colombo
  • Attacks happened as Christians attended Easter Sunday services

COLOMBO: At least 137 people, including nine foreigners, were killed in Sri Lanka on Sunday, when a string of blasts ripped through high-end hotels and churches as worshippers attended Easter services.

Sri Lanka’s police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days before Sunday’s bomb attacks in the country that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches,” according to the warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 42 people were killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.

Another 10 people were confirmed dead in the town of Batticaloa, in the east of the country, where another church was targeted.
There were also reports of casualties in a blast at a church north of the capital and the toll was expected to rise.
The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear and there were no immediate claims of responsibility.
President Maithripala Sirisena in an address said he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, writing on his verified Twitter account, said the attacks had killed “many innocent people” and appeared to be a “well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem & anarchy.”
The first explosions were reported at St. Anthony’s Shrine, a church in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital.
Dozens of people injured in the St. Anthony’s blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.
“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St. Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.
Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.
An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant.
He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.
An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.
“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.
He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St. Anthony’s Shrine and described “horrible scenes.”
“I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”
“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added.
Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.
The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood.
Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries.
The images could not immediately be verified.

Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.