India's UN envoy turns table on Pakistani scribe, extending hand of friendship

By Arul Louis

United Nations, Aug 17 (IANS) India's Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin dramatically extended the hand of friendship to the hostile neighbour through a Pakistani journalist who complained on Friday about lack of dialogue between the two countries.

At his news conference here, he stepped away from the podium and walked up to the senior Pakistani journalist who asked, "When will you begin a dialogue with Pakistan?"

"So let me begin by coming across to you," Akbaruddin told him. "Give me your hand."

"Let me tell you we have already extended our hand of friendship by saying we are committed to the Simla agreement," he said.

"Let us wait for a response on that from the Pakistani side," he said with a pause.

For Akbaruddin, who had earlier been the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson and also Prime Minister Narendra Modi's spokesperson on his foreign travels, this was his first encounter with the rambunctious UN press corps.

He disarmed them with his openness, informality and humour.

He took a dig at the Permanent Representatives - Zhang Jun of China and Maleeha Lodhi of Pakistan - who refused to answer questions from reporters after reading their statement.

"People who came here, just walked off. (But) as the representative of an open democracy, I am ready to answer (your questions.)"

He first asked three Pakistani journalists to shoot their questions to him, surprising them as they were worked up, before turning to an Indian correspondent and two from other countries.

A Pakistani reporter had earlier asked why there was no contacts between the neighbours and why India had not responded to requests for talks.

"Stop terror to start talks," Akbaruddin replied.

He said, "There are normal diplomatic ways of dealing with the countries when countries deal with each other. But using terror to try and push your goals is not the way that normal states behave in. No democracy will acknowledge or accept talks when terror thrives."

He recalled his experiences from his diplomatic career in dealing with Pakistan.

"I have been a member of many delegations to Islamabad. I myself served as an Indian diplomat in Islamabad," he said.

Akbaruddin caught his first Pakistani questioner's slip in admitting that Kashmir was an internal affair of India, thanking him.

Referring to Article 370, the journalist said, "That could be an internal matter of India."

Akbaruddin immediately jumped in confounding him by saying, "Thank you for accepting that."A

The journalist continued, "Article 370 was enshrined in the Indian constitution." Akbaruddin again acknowledged it, saying, "Thank you, (enshrined) by India."

When a reporter said that the restrictions placed on Kashmir undermined India's image as an open democracy, Akbaruddin said, "Public order is integral to ensuring that democracy prospers. Without public order no democracy can function. There are reasonable restrictions and we acknowledge there are restrictions and we are easing them."

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

--IANS

al/rt

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