Mystery thickens, Bukhari says government cleared Burney’s visit

June 2nd, 2008 - 12:16 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf

New Delhi, June 1 (IANS) A day after India “regretted” denying entry to former Pakistan human rights minister Ansar Burney, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmad Bukhari Sunday said the government had given a go-ahead to the rights campaigner’s visit. The schedule of Burney, who was to come here to address an international conference on terrorism that took place Sunday, was conveyed to the external affairs ministry and the home ministry six months ago, Bukhari told reporters.

“The process for the conference had started six months earlier. The government had also given the clearance for his visit,” he said on the sidelines of the conference organized by the Jama Masjid United Forum.

“The list of delegates was finalized and the confirmed list was sent to both ministries. The government had also sent its letters for visa clearance,” he said.

“If at all they had any reservation, the government should have told us not to invite Burney. But sending him back in this fashion at the last minute is very unfortunate,” Bukhari said.

Alluding to Burney’s key role in the release of Indian prisoner Kashmir Singh and his advocacy of clemency for Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, Bukhari said the government’s step would “demoralise” him in doing such work in future.

“We are not able to understand the government’s action,” he said.

Bukhari’s remarks triggered speculation about the government’s actual reasons for denying entry after he landed at the airport here Friday night.

Reliable sources said Burney was not allowed to enter India as Pakistan’s new civilian government was not favourably disposed towards his visit at a time when the two countries are trying to resolve at the highest political level the issue of prisoners detained in each other’s country.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had written to President Pervez Musharraf for granting clemency to Sarabjit Singh, accused of his complicity in terrorist blasts in Multan nearly two decades ago.

But the issue of clemency evokes mixed reactions in Pakistan with a section of the establishment unhappy with the way Burney has taken up the cause of Sarabjit Singh and accolades he has earned in India.

Burney has expressed hurt and shock at the attitude of the Indian government in denying entry to him, especially ni the light his record of advocating the cause of Indian prisoners in Pakistan’s jails.

He has suspected the Pakistan government’s hand behind his “deportation” from India.

“It might be because of some jealously among government people. They do not like me to be in India as people of India like me,” he said.

“They must be waiting in Pakistan as well as India that if people die in jails, then they can do politics over the dead bodies. But I will not allow them,” he said.

The issue of Sarabjit Singh’s clemency will figure in the discussions again when Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi comes here later this month ahead of the launch of the fifth round of Composite Dialogue between the two countries.

A red-faced home ministry Saturday went on a damage-control mode and underlined that Burney was sent back and not deported because of lack of proper travel documents.

“Burney was denied entry and not deported on account of inadequate documentation,” it said in a statement.

“It may be mentioned that no such difficulty had arisen when Burney visited India in April 2008 when requisite information about his visit was available in advance. The inconvenience to Burney is unfortunate and regrettable,” it explained.

A senior ministry official also spoke to Burney and conveyed the government’s stand.

The external affairs ministry, however, chose not to comment on Burney’s deportation, saying it was not involved.

“It was a private visit. We don’t know anything about it,” said a source in the Pakistani high commission here.

The Pakistan government has told Burney’s family that it had no role in his deportation from India to Dubai.

Home ministry sources said that Burney was refused entry into India as he was on a “look-out notice” in Indian airports, a list that had not been updated at least for a decade.

“We are trying to find out why the look-out list had not been updated in the airports’ computers,” an official said.

The government is also trying to find out why Burney’s name figured in the “look-out notice” which is normally meant for undesirable elements, suspect terrorists, people wanted in court cases and those guilty of financial fraud.

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