Zardari announces $1 million to Ajmer dargah
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari waves to onlookers during a visit to the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer on Sunday. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

After signalling a positive outcome of his talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari paid obeisance at the historic dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti during his private visit here on Sunday and offered a chadar and floral tributes at the Sufi saint's tomb. His son and Pakistan People's Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto was among those who accompanied him.

Mr. Zardari announced a donation of $1 million to the shrine after performing the ‘ziarat' rituals. This was stated to be the biggest-ever financial contribution made by a head of State, even as the declaration led to speculations about its use for development of the dargah and distribution among Khadims, who claim to be custodians of the 13th Century mausoleum.

Grand welcome

The President and members of his delegation were welcomed at the dargah's Nizam Gate with the beating of trumpets. He carried the red velvet chadar and flowers on his head inside the tomb and spent about 10 minutes there while offering ‘fateha' (supplication). Mr. Bilawal offered a green chadar at the last resting place of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz.

Mr. Zardari and the accompanying group spent about 40 minutes on the dargah premises, while the entire locality outside was shut down for four hours and no devotee was allowed inside. Khadims Iqbal Kaptan and Talib Kaptan helped the VIPs in performing ‘ziarat' and carried out their ‘dastaarbandi' (tying of turban) and presented sweetmeats to them.

While Wahid Angara Shah, secretary of Khadim's representative body Anjuman Khuddam Syedzadgan, read out a citation praising the initiatives for peace in the Indian subcontinent, Mr. Iqbal Kaptan presented silver rings studded with nine gems, Navratnas, to both Mr. Zardari and Mr. Bilawal.

Reference to Benazir

The citation also prayed for welfare of Pakistani people and made a reference to Mr. Zardari's wife and late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, saying she had received blessings of the Sufi mystic during her visits to the dargah.

Mr. Zardari evinced a keen interest in the surroundings at the dargah and offered ‘shukrana' (thanksgiving) prayers outside the Khwaja's burial chamber.

In his remarks entered in the Anjuman's visitors book, the President said the spiritual happiness and contentment he had felt at the dargah was “beyond description.” “I pray to God for creation of favourable conditions for the entire humanity,” he wrote.

Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who accompanied the Presidential delegation as the Minister-in-waiting, also offered a chadar at the shrine on behalf of the Prime Minister. The internal strife in the dargah management came to light with the dargah Dewan, Zainul Abedin, abstaining from the VIP ‘ziarat'. He alleged that the administration had flouted the custom of including him among the representatives interacting with the President.

Zardari's entourage

Mr. Zardari's entourage included Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, Additional Foreign Secretary Asif Durrani, High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik and Senator Farooq H. Naik. Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal also accompanied the delegation.

Earlier, Mr. Zardari arrived with the delegation members by three special Indian Air Force helicopters from Jaipur at Ghooghra helipad and travelled 12 km by road to reach the dargah. The shrine was turned into a fortress in view of the VIP visit and elaborate security arrangements were made in the area.

3000 policemen deployed

Over 3,000 policemen were deployed around the dargah and armed security persons stood guard at the rooftop of nearby buildings. Residents of the houses facing the shrine were asked to keep their windows shut when the President was inside and shops in the Dargah Bazaar were closed for four hours.

This was Mr. Zardari's first visit to the dargah, revered by people of all faiths in the Indian subcontinent, after becoming the President. He had earlier visited the shrine in 2005 with his wife Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.

Earlier, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot received Mr. Zardari at Sanganer airport in Jaipur on Sunday afternoon on his arrival after his New Delhi visit. The President stayed at the airport's special guest lounge for half-an-hour and took breakfast with Mr. Gehlot before leaving for the pilgrim town of Ajmer.

State Chief Secretary C. K. Mathew, Director-General of Police Harish Chandra Meena and Principal General Administration Secretary R. P. Jain were also at the airport to welcome the Pakistan President.

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