India's home minister Rajnath Singh goes to Pakistan as a guest and comes back insulted — his speech censored, hotel surrounded by protesters and official luncheon ruined by a sulking government taking dictation from a banned terror outfit.
With its churlish behaviour, Pakistan ended up doing exactly what it wanted to avoid: Giving publicity to the Indian home minister's words, denying him media space. Singh's speech is now almost everywhere, it is being quoted by international agencies, talked about in India and, to Pakistan's misfortune, being debated in its own country.
Under normal circumstances, Singh's address to the Saarc leaders would have passed off as a normal speech. But the controversy and curiosity around it has given it a life and legend of its own.
The entire episode reminds us of the story of Hanuman's visit to Ravana's Lanka. Eager to spite the messenger, the demon king sets Hanuman's tale on fire and ends up burning down his own capital.
During Singh's visit to Pakistan for the Saarc summit, Islamabad acted almost like a B-team of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and outlawed terrorist Hafiz Saeed, following the agenda he had set. As if to ensure Saeed was not seen as a paper tiger, the Pakistani government allowed protesters to camp near Singh's hotel and turn it effectively into a staging area for protests.
Ensuring the safety of a diplomatic guest, keeping miscreants away is a standard protocol all hosts follow during VIP visits. It would be pertinent to point out to Pakistan here that India, like a gracious host, goes out of its way to ensure Tibetan protesters do not get any opportunity to ruin a visiting Chinese premier's visit. But Pakistan, obviously, had a different plan in mind: It wanted to use Singh's visit as a propaganda tool for its Kashmir lobby.
Speaking at the Democratic National Convention, US First Lady Michelle Obama offered an interesting punchline while taking down Donald Trump: When they go low, we go high.
To Singh's credit, he decided to visit Pakistan in spite of threats of mass protests by Saeed. Once India had taken the decision, it was Pakistan's responsibility to behave like a good host, if not a gracious neighbour. It is a shame it didn't. Not attending the lunch was a new low. Speaking at a press conference, Pakistan's interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said he had received a message from the Indian minister asking whether he (Nisar) would be coming to the lunch. The interior minister said he excused himself as he had to attend an important meeting at the prime minister's residence.
This, from a country whose leaders gorge on biryani in our country even during personal visits.
The Pakistani media, while debating Singh's walkout, has imparted to a different spin to the story. It claims the Indian home minister walked out in a huff after losing a war of words with Chaudhry. The Indian minister indirectly accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism. But when Chaudhry responded — after relinquishing his position as the chairman of the meeting — Singh found it difficult to digest, claimed Dawn.
That is like saying Hanuman walked out of Lanka with his tail burnt. Singh had gone there with the specific purpose of speaking his mind on the issue of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. Once he had done that and in the process set the house on fire, it made no sense to endure Pakistan's usual litany of explanation and ''our freedom fighter-your terrorist" spiel.
Finally, before we forget Pakistan's insolence and impudence, let us get this off our chest: What does the Indian government intend to do to ensure such acts are not repeated?
In 2013, when then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif compared his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh with a dehati aurat, Narendra Modi retorted in trademark style: "How dare you (Sharif) address my nation's prime minister as a village woman? There cannot be a bigger insult of the Indian Prime Minister," Modi said during a rally in New Delhi, adding, "We can fight with him (Manmohan) over policies, but we will not tolerate this. This nation of 1.2 billion will not tolerate its prime minister's insult."
This country of 1.2 billion should not tolerate the home minister's insult either.
As prime minister, Modi has been extremely lenient with Pakistan so far, a privilege that seems to have gone to Pakistan's head. When he became the prime minister, Modi decided to start with a clean state by inviting Sharif to his swearing-in and then exchanging gifts. Then, when the two countries had given up on bilateral talks, Modi made another gesture of friendship by making a brief stopover in Lahore while returning from Afghanistan in December 2015.
But, India and Pakistan are back where they were in 2014 at Kathmandu, sulking in public, throwing barbs at each other, bickering in the glare of the media.
Much of this is Pakistan's fault.
Over the past two years, it has responded to every friendly gesture with a fresh round of hostilities, a trend that was capped by the terror strike on Pathankot within hours of Modi's Lahore visit.
Although India has been keen on reviving talks, bringing Pakistan back to the table, the results have been discouraging. Pakistan's behaviour at Saarc should force India to chalk out a long-term plan for dealing with the neighbour.
It should start by summoning the Pakistan's High Commissioner to India and raising strong objections to the treatment meted out to the home minister.
Give him an earful, read him the riot act, familiarise him with etiquette, and then offer him a cup of tea to show that even in anger we do not forget the basics of mehmaan nawazi, something Nawaz and his team have forgotten.