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Time has not changed Advani's alma mater

Beena Sarwar

St. Patrick's accords Advani a warm reception; Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz are also alumni

KARACHI: Things have changed a great deal since Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani's last visit to Pakistan in 1979 as Information and Broadcasting Minister — geo-political realities and relations between India and Pakistan, to name some. Karachi itself, a quiet but sophisticated seaside town of some 400,000 in 1947, is now the country's largest city and business and commercial capital, bursting with 15 million inhabitants.

What remains almost unchanged despite various additions to its basic sandstone structure is Mr. Advani's alma mater, St. Patrick's Boy's School in the heart of Karachi's busy Saddar district, now surrounded by an electronic market.

Chance to restore links

Coincidentally, Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz are also alumni of St. Pat's, as it is locally known.

One of the major collateral benefits of the rapprochement between India and Pakistan is not just the restoration of physical links such as roads and railways but the chance to restore links with the past. At least for Gen. Musharraf, this restored link brought an unexpected benefit when he learnt that he was two years younger than he had thought, thanks to his old school records in Delhi, dug out and presented to him by the Manmohan Singh Government. Gen. Musharraf earlier surprised Dr. Singh with a photo album and records from Dr. Singh's old school in Gah, in the Pakistani Punjab.

One of Mr. Advani's primary motives for visiting Pakistan along with his family may well have been the chance to visit his birthplace, where he lived for 20 years before migrating after Partition.

Invitations turned down in the past

However, in the past he turned down invitations to visit Pakistan, despite admittedly feeling nostalgic about Karachi. In a television interview in Islamabad earlier, Mr. Advani clarified that he had nothing to do with Advani Street in Hyderabad's Shahi Bazaar, and had never lived there.

At St Pat's, Mr. Advani was accorded a warm reception although school holidays in Karachi are already under way.

He then called on the Governor of Sindh, Ishrat-ul-Ibad of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party that draws support primarily from "Urdu-speaking" migrants from north India.

Talking to reporters at Governor House Karachi, Mr. Advani reiterated what he had been saying during his Pakistan trip, that the present rapprochement process would have been inconceivable four or five years ago. He reminded everyone again that it was his party that actually started the dialogue process, not just with Pakistan, but also with the Kashmiri Hurriyat Conference leaders, who are coincidentally visiting Pakistan now.

Diversity of J&K must be kept in mind

Mr. Advani said the diversity of the Jammu and Kashmir region must be kept in mind, along with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people as the dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue got under way.

Mr. Advani lunched at the residence of Hakim Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's father-in-law, in Old Clifton.

The area with its gracious old bungalows and wide roads lined with ancient trees houses the residence of the Consulate-General of India, in disuse since the Indian Consulate was shut down in 1995.

Ten years on, the possibilities of its being reopened have never seemed brighter.

PTI ADDS: "Advani was good in maths"

BJP president and Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani took a trip down memory lane when he visited his alma mater here, with his schoolmates remembering him as being ``good in mathematics.''

The 78-year-old leader recalled that at times he used to cycle all the way to his St. Patrick's High School just to see on the board that the school was closed for the day due to rains.

Quoting noted economist Amartya Sen, an ``overwhelmed'' BJP chief said a country's progress depended on the importance it gave to education and health.

Schoolmates remembered him as ``an outgoing student who was good in mathematics."

Denis Laper, Advani's junior in the school, recalled that he was the ``scorer'' in the school cricket team and he erred only once when he missed a no-ball. ``He was very disciplined, always ready to help,'' Mr. Laper said.

School Principal Father Joseph Paul described Advani as one of the ``most illustrious'' students of the institution. ``I am fully confident that Advani's visit to Pakistan is a blessing for the peace loving people of Pakistan ... his visit to Pakistan will prove to be a catalyst in bridging the vast gap of impediment between the old and new generations across the two borders,'' said Mushtaq Noorwala, president of the Old Patricians

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