New Delhi, Aug 17: "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 today visible when all SAARC nations including Pakistan were represented at his funeral.
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 here.
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."
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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, US 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 (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) is a regional bloc comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
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 here as a mark of respect to Vajpayee.