Zardari puts off visit to Azad Kashmir

6 June 2009
The Dawn

Muzaffarabad : President Asif Ali Zardari put off his maiden visit to Azad Jammu and Kashmir at the eleventh hour on Saturday, pouring cold water on the aspirations of the lawmakers expecting enhanced developmental funds for their constituencies. While the coalition government, particularly the People's Party AJK, felt embarrassed at the cancellation of the visit, the opposition Muslim Conference also termed it 'disappointing' for the Kashmiris. The government had declared a holiday in Muzaffarabad on Saturday ostensibly to accord 'a rousing welcome to the president' but in effect to ensure security of the VVIP by lessening the crowds of people in Chattar which houses most of the government offices including the assembly building. The local editions of almost all Urdu language newspapers published advertisements on behalf of the several ministers to welcome the president which negated the decision of the sitting cabinet that such adverts would not be issued. According to an official source, the advertisements would cost at least three million to the state exchequer. Apart from that, several hoardings and large size banners were also put on display in various neighborhoods of the town to welcome the VVIP guest. The proposed engagements of the president included address to the special joint sitting of the AJK assembly and AJK council, participation in a reception by AJK President Raja Zulqarnain Khan in the town's only five-star hotel and meetings with some representative delegations. Mr Zardari was in Lahore on Saturday from where he had to fly to Muzaffarabad after a meeting with PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif at about 1pm. However, his departure time from Lahore was extended by one hour. In the meanwhile, the assembly building was taken over by the president's security staff and some federal ministers arrived here by road. However, while the members of joint sitting as well as other guests were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the president, they were told that the visit had been put off due to the inclement weather. 'The president was ready to take off at 2pm. But weather forecast suggested he could not return after 5pm,' LA speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir told Dawn. Later, the joint sitting was held to fulfil the formality where Mr Qadir read out the presidential order regarding its prorogation. An official, requesting anonymity, told Dawn that 'had the president arrived here on time he could have carried out all of his scheduled engagements smoothly. 'He should not have agreed to any other engagement today,' the official added, lamenting the wastage of funds on arrangements for the high profile tour. Meanwhile, opposition Muslim Conference said it felt disappointed by the cancellation of president's visit. 'The visits of Pakistani leaders (to AJK) send a very positive message across the LoC and should not be cancelled for any reason,' said Dr Najeeb Naqi Khan, MLA, vice president of MC (A). He said Mr Zardari had visited all the four provinces after assuming the highest office but he was yet to spare time for AJK. 'The people of Azad Kashmir are rendering great sacrifices for the prosperity of Pakistan without making any noise and they must be given due respect,' he said, expressing the hope that Mr Zardari would shortly visit the AJK.