Apparently miffed over the treatment he received in Pakistan, Home Minister Rajnath Singh Friday said India has always tried to be friendly with its reluctant western neighbhour but “yeh padosi hai ki maanta nahin”.
“We can change friends but not neighbours. Our Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) has been friendly with Pakistan. We have always tried to work out our ties with them,” Rajnath Singh said.
He was briefing the Rajya Sabha on his two-day visit to Islamabad where he attended a meeting of interior/home ministers of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) nations. The minister later made similar remarks in the Lok Sabha.
Opposition lawmakers rallied behind the government and condemned Pakistan over the treatment meted out to Rajnath Singh in Pakistan.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said it was a “disappointing” behaviour on part of the host country.
Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav echoed the sentiment and “strongly” condemned “how Pakistan didn’t maintain protocol and treated our home minister”.
The minister, however, said he won’t comment on whether the Pakistan government and ministers behaved “well with me, (but) I did what I had to do to uphold the dignity of our country”.
He said he skipped a lunch hosted for Saarc ministers by his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
“It is true that the Pakistan Interior Minister invited everyone for lunch. But then he left in his car. I also left. I have no complaints as I had not gone there to have a lunch,” Rajnath Singh.
“But we have a reputation of welcoming our guests and we should maintain that.”
In Islamabad, the Home Minister while addressing the Saarc meeting criticised the Pakistan government for supporting terrorism and describing slain pro-Pakistan Kashmiri rebel commander Burhan Wani as a “martyr”.
Media reports said his anti-terror speech was blacked out and Indian reporters accompanying the minister were not allowed inside the venue to cover the event at luxurious Serena Hotel in the Pakistan capital.
Rajnath Singh said “it is difficult” to say if his speech was deliberately censored from being covered live.
“I am not aware of protocol norms followed during (the) previous (Saarc) events. Will have to speak to the Ministry of External Affairs on that. Whether the speech was covered or not, whether there is a precedent to cover (the event), was it deliberately not covered… I cannot say anything about that.”
“But it is true that the reporters from India were not allowed inside,” the Home Minister said, as lawmakers shouted “shame” in a unison.
He said he saw some anti-India protest rallies in Islamabad that posed a security challenge during his visit. In view of the threat, the minister was flown in a helicopter to Serena Hotel from the airport.
“When I was going to the hotel, some people were standing and protesting.”
Pakistan hosted the Saarc meeting amid a bloody unrest in the Kashmir Valley in the wake of militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing in a gun battle with security forces that has left more than 50 people dead in clashes between security personnel and Kashmiri protesters in nearly a month of turmoil.
India has blamed Pakistan for stoking the trouble in the state after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hailed Wani as one who died fighting for the “freedom” of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan also observed a black day against the killing of Wani that triggered the bloody unrest in the valley.
The Home Minister criticised the Pakistan government for supporting terrorism. He said he made it clear to Saarc nations that terrorism should not be glorified by distinguishing between a “good terrorist” and a “bad terrorist”.
“I urged all members that terrorists should not be glorified nor should they be patronized.”