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Leaders from SAARC countries, including Pak attend Vajpayee's funeral

August 17, 2018 22:04 IST

"You can change friends but not neighbours," Atal Bihari Vajpayee famously said this 15 years ago, and the goodwill he enjoyed among neighbouring countries was visible on Friday when all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation nations including Pakistan were represented at his funeral.

IMAGE: Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai and representatives of SAARC countries attend the cremation of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal in New Delhi on Friday, August 17, 2018. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo

Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, Pakistan's Minister of Law Ali Zafar, Nepal's Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali and Acting Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Lakshman Kiriella, were among the foreign dignitaries who attended Vajpayee's funeral in New Delhi.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai also paid homage to Vajpayee before his mortal remains were consigned to flames at Smriti Sthal at central Delhi.

 

Diplomats from a number of other countries also attended the funeral of the region's much-loved leader.

Vajpayee's foster daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya lit the pyre as cries of "Atal Bihari Amar Rahe" reverberated.

The former prime minister always strived for close relations with neighbouring countries, including Pakistan.

Vajpayee had famously said in Parliament in 2003, "You can change friends but not neighbours."

IMAGE: King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck pays his last respect to Vajpayee. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo

According to a first person account by Ashok Kumar Tandon, who served as Vajpayee's media adviser, at a brainstorming session during a holiday after he formed the government in 1998, Vajpayee had said his topmost priority would be to improve relations with all neighbours including Pakistan in a peaceful manner through bilateral dialogues and another was to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir issue.

Condolences for Vajpayee poured in from all corners of the world after the news of his demise broke last evening.

Pakistan's prime minister-elect Imran Khan expressed condolences over Vajpayee's demise, saying his efforts for India-Pakistan peace will always be remembered.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina lso expressed "deep shock" at Vajpayee's demise and said he was "our great friend and highly respected" in her country.

IMAGE: Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai pays homage to Vajpaye. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI Photo

Russian President Vladimir Putin, United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth condoled Vajpayee's demise.

SAARC Secretary General Amjad Hussain B Sial condoled Vajpayee's passing away, saying he will be remembered for his historic initiatives in promoting peace and harmony in the region.

SAARC is a regional bloc comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

IMAGE: The flag of the United States flies at half mast at its embassy in New Delhi as a mark of respect to Vajpayee. Photograph: Kind courtesy @USAndIndia/Twitter

In a statement, the French government also condoled Vajpayee's demise.

"France offers its condolences to his family as well as the Indian authorities and people. Poet, politician, visionary, he left his mark on India's history. His name remains linked to the Indo-French friendship, which he shaped by launching the strategic partnership that has united our two countries since 1998," it said.

The flags of the US, UK and Belgium flew at half mast at their embassies in New Delhi as a mark of respect to Vajpayee.

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