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Indian shrine chief to boycott Pakistan PM’s pilgrimage

JAIPUR: The spiritual head of a revered Muslim shrine in India where Pakistan’s premier Raja Pervez Ashraf is set to visit at the weekend said Friday that he objected to the politician’s pilgrimage.

Ashraf and his family are due to begin a day-long private trip on Saturday to the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz in Ajmer Sharif, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) west of New Delhi.

The visit is Ashraf’s first trip to India as prime minister and comes at a time of strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad after tit-for-tat killings of soldiers at the tense border between the neighbours.

“I have decided to boycott the visit (to protest) the brutal killing of our Indian solders by the Pakistani army,” shrine spiritual head Zainul Abedin Ali Khan said.

“The incident has hurt Indians,” Khan added in a statement.

Tensions between the rival neighbours rose in January when six soldiers on both sides were killed in exchanges along the Line of Control (LoC) de facto border in Kashmir, a region claimed by both countries.

One of the Indians was beheaded, allegedly by Pakistanis.

Khan said he would also protest Ashraf’s trip because of alleged ill-treatment of Hindus in Pakistan.

“There are incidents of atrocities on minorities in Pakistan and we have seen people from the Hindu community migrating to India on account of religious, financial and social persecution in Pakistan,” he said.

“I am against that, and to express my feelings, I decided to boycott the visit,” Khan said.

Ajmer Bar Association President Rajesh Tandon described the visit as “intolerable” and warned that lawyers would symbolically cleanse the road on which the Pakistani leader travelled to mark their protest.

“This is intolerable for an Indian because of the beheading of our soldier at the LoC,” Tandon said.

Ashraf will be the most senior Pakistani to visit India since last April when President Asif Ali Zardari embarked on a similar pilgrimage and then had lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

While media reports said Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid will host lunch for Ashraf, Yashwant Sinha, a Hindu nationalist leader from India’s main opposition BJP party on Friday urged New Delhi not to hold official talks with him.

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