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India-Pakistan tension turn SAARC a sour affair

Relations between India and Pakistan touched a new low as home minister Rajnath Singh left for New Delhi in a huff after giving a curt message to Pakistan at the 7th SAARC interior ministers’ meet in Islamabad.

After landing in New Delhi, Rajnath straight away called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to brief him about developments in Islamabad. Rajnath is expected to make a statement on his Islamabad visit in the Parliament on Friday.

At the SAARC meeting, making a direct jibe at Pakistan for eulogising slain Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani, Rajnath said, “It also needs to be ensured that terrorism is not glorified and is not patronised by any state. One country’s terrorist cannot be a martyr or freedom fighter for anyone. There should be no glorification or eulogising of terrorists as martyrs.”

Making still stiffer remarks, Rajnath called for “strongest action not only against terrorists or organisations but also against those individuals, organisations and nations.”

“Those who provide support, encouragement, sanctuary, safe haven or any assistance to terrorism or terrorists must be isolated. Strongest possible steps need to be taken not only against terrorists and terrorist organisations but also those individuals, institutions, organisations or nations that support them,” Rajnath said.

This, apparently, has been India’s most strong and direct attack against Pakistan at the SAARC summit. At previous meets, sources said, India had raised concerns regarding Pak-sponsored terrorism, but in a subtler manner.

With Pakistan interior minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan lambasting India on the “use of excessive force and torture against innocent children and civilians” and equating it with terrorism, the summit, meant to encourage cooperation between eight south Asian countries, virtually turned into a slanging match between the two countries.

So high were the tensions that Singh, sources said, left without having lunch and did not wait even for formal closure of the SAARC meeting.

In his opening remarks, Nisar picked on India for “using torture against innocent children and violence against civilians” and qualified it as “terrorism”. Without naming India, Nisar added that there was a need to end an “extremist” mindset and instead try to solve regional issues with dialogue.

“The use of blame game has not benefited anyone for the past six decades,” said Nisar.

The tension was palpable on Rajnath’s arrival in Islamabad who was accorded Presidential level security because of the high threat perception and was flown to the SAARC venue in a helicopter. Sources present at the venue said that even the exchange of pleasantries between Rajnath and Nisar was pretty stiff when the two crossed over each other. Pakistan even blacked out thin team of Indian media that had gone with Rajnath and did not allow them to enter the venue of the meet.

Trying to play down the livid atmosphere, the ministry of external affairs said in a statement that “the media reports of a ‘blackout’ of our home minister’s statement are misleading. It is the standard SAARC practice that the opening statement by the host country is public and open to the media while the rest of the proceedings are in camera, which allows for a full and frank discussion of issues.”

The home minister was eager to make a statement on his Islamabad visit immediately after touching down in New Delhi. The home ministry had even flashed a message for reporters to rush to the Indira Gandhi international airport but the press briefing was abruptly cancelled minutes before Rajnath’s arrival. Informed sources said, the decision was taken after hectic parleys between the prime minister’s office and ministry of external affairs.

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