Mr. Singh in Islamabad

As the dust starts to settle after the controversies surrounding Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Pakistan, a sense of proportion is urgently needed — and given how easily minor observations about protocol can snowball into diplomatic spats, the sooner this happens the better it would be for India’s national interest as well as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. To begin with, Mr. Singh’s decision to finally show up for the SAARC interior ministers’ meet in Islamabad was wise. India, as the largest country in South Asia, has a stake in its viability. And for all the hostility in India-Pakistan rhetoric, which is basically aimed at domestic politics in the two countries in the backdrop of the protests in Kashmir, his visit underlined the attempt to separate the SAARC ministerial from bilateral relations with the hosts. This was, in fact, emphasised in advance with the clarification that Mr. Singh would not have a bilateral meeting with his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines. As things stand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Islamabad for the SAARC summit in November, and the temptation to headline-hunt by sending a junior minister in Mr. Singh’s place was thankfully resisted. In his speech, he also desisted from playing to the gallery by maintaining the SAARC protocol of not referring to specific countries while talking of states that equate “terrorists to martyrs”.

It is therefore unfortunate that on his return to Delhi, Mr. Singh played to a domestic constituency, keen on highlighting Pakistani snubs, by acknowledging in the Rajya Sabha on Friday reports of a “media blackout” during his visit. His explanation about returning to India without attending the lunch hosted by the Pakistani government because their minister gave it a miss was, “I did not go to Pakistan to have lunch.” This may, of course, be read variously, as a rebuff or as an indication that the lunch was immaterial to the larger purpose of the visit. But by not embedding his remarks, which included an aside on India’s tradition of hospitality, in a more nuanced road map for SAARC cooperation, the Minister has unnecessarily given play to pointless nitpicking. This tendency of matching Pakistani provocation with Indian retort is not always necessary. It can undermine India’s diplomatic effort to build a greater constituency for regional cooperation, not just in Pakistan but also in the other member countries. Having said this, the Pakistani establishment showed scant regard for bilateral relations by allowing terrorists wanted in this country to organise unchecked anti-India protests during Mr. Singh’s visit. It is one thing to condemn this act of provocation but New Delhi should not allow such pettiness to defeat its larger objectives in the region.

Keywords: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, SAARC Summit, Rajnath Singh’s visit to Pakistan, India-Pakistan bilateral ties, terrorism issues


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