Islamabad: In a speech in Islamabad that was blacked out by the Pakistan media, Home Minister Rajnath Singh today leaves SAARC summit midway and returns to India. Mr Singh also said that “in no circumstances should terrorists be eulogised as martyrs” – a reference to the lionizing in Pakistan of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani, who was killed by security forces in Kashmir on July 8.
The speeches of Mr Singh and other delegates was not aired by Pakistan’s state-run PTV, which was the only media allowed to cover the conference ; Indian crew were not allowed to shoot them either.
“Those who provide support, encouragement, give sanctuary and safe haven and assistance to terrorists and terrorism must be isolated,” Mr Singh stressed. With the hard-hitting statement, the home minister ended a tense, 24-hour visit soured by repeated rebuffs by Pakistan. Asked about the media blackout, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu said in Delhi: “Pakistan is the model of democracy.”
Mr Singh’s visit – the first by an Indian leader after the January Pathankot terror attack blamed on Pakistan-based terrorists – was clouded by visible bitterness between the two countries, especially over a series of provocative comments from Islamabad on Kashmir and Wani.
This morning, he barely shook hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nisar Ali Khan as they met for the first time before the SAARC meeting. They just touched their hands before Mr Singh walked off towards the meeting venue.
Even then, members of the Indian media were kept at a distance by Pakistani officials, which led to a verbal clash between officials of the two sides
Later, Mr Singh reportedly did not attend lunch hosted by Mr Khan.
As Mr Singh arrived in Islamabad yesterday, anti-India protests in various cities featured terrorists like Hizbul Mujahideen’s Syed Salahuddin and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar e Taiba, who roams free in Pakistan. At a rally in Lahore, Hafiz Saeed lashed out at Pakistan government’s decision to “welcome” Mr Singh.
The home minister rode to his hotel in a chopper as part of the “presidential level security” arranged for him following India’s assertion that his protection is Islamabad’s responsibility.
While Saeed was part of protests in Lahore, the wife of Yasin Malik of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front joined a hunger strike in Islamabad. Even while hosting a top Indian minister, Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif escalated his India-baiting and made more provocative statements on Kashmir.