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ISLAMABAD: The For­eign Office kept mum as the controversial visit of Indian steel magnate Sajjan Jindal echoed at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday.

When Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, who was leading the FO team at the meeting, could not respond to queries from the participants about the Jindal trip, committee chairman Awais Leghari brought the discussion to an end.

Mr Jindal, who is said to be Nawaz Sharif’s and Narendra Modi’s mutual friend and considered a sort of back-channel contact, briefly visited Pakistan on Wednesday. He was taken by helicopter to Murree, where he met Prime Minister Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz. His trip led to speculations that a move for revival of bilateral dialogue could be afoot.

The visit came on the day Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale filed an appeal with the FO against the death sentence awarded to RAW spy Kulbhushan Jadhav. The appeal was submitted on behalf of Jadhav’s mother in which she had sought the federal government’s intervention for the release of her son.

But the trip is also being linked to the fast deteriorating situation in India-held Kashmir, which some think has pushed Prime Minister Modi’s government to consider talking to Pakistan.

Mr Jindal in the past facilitated a secret meeting between Mr Sharif and Mr Modi in Kathmandu on the sidelines of a Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in 2014. The meeting had then helped save the summit that seemed to be headed for failure and a last-minute deal to create a regional electricity grid was clinched.

In 2015, he was in Lahore on the occasion of Mr Modi’s surprise visit to greet Mr Sharif on his birthday and attend his granddaughter’s wedding.

“Why is the government quiet over Jindal’s visit?” asked PPP’s Nafeesa Shah during the committee’s meeting.

There was no formal press statement by the PM Office on Mr Jindal’s meeting with Mr Sharif even though it regularly issues press releases on the prime minister’s engagements with business delegations.

Ms Nawaz, however, confirmed the trip in a tweet as she rejected its description as ‘secret’ by some of the media outlets. “Mr Jindal is an old friend of the Prime Minister. Nothing ‘secret’ about the meeting & should not be blown out of proportion,” she had tweeted after the issue hit headlines a day after the Indian businessman toured Pakistan.

Pakistan Tehreek Insaf’s Shireen Mazari questioned as to how Mr Jindal visited Murree, when his visa was restricted for Islamabad and Lahore only.

“If Jindal had come on a private visit, why did FO officials receive him?” Ms Mazari further asked.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2017