NEW DELHI: The Indian government, in an unusual move to play down anti-Pakistan rhetoric on Thursday, frontally denied local media reports that Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s speech at a Saarc meeting in Islamabad was blacked out by Pakistan.

“With reference to the home ministers meeting in Islamabad earlier today, media reports of a blackout of our home minister’s statement are misleading. It is the standard Saarc practice that the opening statement by the host country is public and open to the media while the rest of the proceedings are in camera, which allows for a full and frank discussion of issues,” Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted a government source as saying.

The reaction came after there were reports that Mr Singh’s speech was reportedly blacked out as media organisations were not allowed to cover the 7th Saarc interior ministers meeting.

The only broadcaster allowed inside the venue was state-owned Pakistan Television, the reports said.

Meanwhile in Islamabad, according to PTI, an interior ministry official also said that there was no such blackout of Mr Singh’s speech as none of the speeches of participating ministers was shown.

“It is true that his (Mr Singh’s) speech was not shown live because (the) speech(es) of none of the participating ministers was shown live by the state media.”

He said only the inaugural session was shown live when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan made welcome speeches.

The official said Mr Singh was not discriminated at all by the state media and he was given full official protocol.

Mr Singh skipped a lunch hosted by his Pakistani counterpart Mr Khan after the host himself failed to turn up at the venue, PTI said.

Mr Khan had organised the lunch for the dignitaries attending the conference, and scheduled it after the main meeting.

“However, he left immediately after the meeting got over despite being the host of the lunch. Mr Singh then took the decision to skip the lunch,” the agency said.

The home minister later had his lunch at his hotel room along with the members of the accompanying Indian delegation.

After the lunch, Mr Singh left for India.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2016

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