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‘Remove the Indian’: How things get tough for India, Pak journalists

An Indian reporter being asked to leave a news briefing in New York by Pakistan foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry isn’t surprising.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2016 18:59 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) sits next to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) in New York on September 19, 2016.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) sits next to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) in New York on September 19, 2016. (AFP)

It wasn’t surprising to hear of an Indian reporter being asked to leave a news briefing in New York by Pakistan foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry. Such things are par for the course at media interactions organised by both countries at times when there is a spike in bilateral tensions.

“Is Indian ko nikalo (Remove the Indian)” were the words reportedly used by Pakistani officials when NDTV’s Namrata Brar was asked to leave the room at Roosevelt Hotel where Chaudhry was to address the media. Those words have been heard in the past too at other media events.

Sometimes the behaviour of officials at such events can be completely perplexing. One such event that I cannot forget occurred on the margins of the first summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia at Almaty in 2002.

The meet was attended by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Coming as it did at a time when bilateral ties were at a low because of the terror attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001 and the massacre of more than 30 people by militants at a camp near Kaluchak in Kashmir in May 2002, there was tremendous interest in everything that was said by the Indian and Pakistani leaders.

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Shortly after Musharraf had spoken at the CICA Summit, a Pakistani official began distributing copies of the speech at his country’s media room. When my friend NB Nair, then with All India Radio, and I approached the official and asked for copies, he refused to give them to us because he spotted our badges identifying us Indian reporters.

There was then the hilarious sight of Nair sneaking up to the official when he turned away from us and snatching a copy of Musharraf’s speech from his hands. As we made our way away from the Pakistani media centre at a fast clip, the official gave chase for a few metres, shouting at Nair to return the paper. Within minutes, Nair made copies of the speech--a public document anyway--at the Indian media centre and shared it with other journalists.

Another strange incident occurred during my stint as a correspondent for an Indian wire service in Islamabad. As a founder-member of the Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Pakistan, I was invited to an interaction with then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at the Prime Minister’s House on October 22, 2010. A day before the event, however, a message from the Prime Minister’s House curtailed the list of invitees--all foreign journalists were dropped but my name was retained.

When a group of us arrived at the Prime Minister’s House, a senior official spotted me and asked someone what “the Indian” was doing there. It wasn’t surprising that he had identified me as, at the time, there were only two Indian journalists posted in Pakistan. The official then told the members of the association that I should be asked to leave, but they put their foot down.

After a while, the officials agreed to allow me into the interaction. Soon enough, the premier walked in and began the news briefing. Like most of the other journalists, I began recording the event on my tape recorder. When the question and answer session began, another official walked up to me and whispered I should stop recording. I pointed out virtually everyone was using a recorder. His reply: “Lekin aap record nahin karenge (But you can’t record).”

It’s another matter as far as Indian and Pakistani journalists are concerned. It isn’t unusual to see them sharing notes whenever they are kept out of briefings by officials of each other’s countries.

(The views expressed by the writer are personal. He was posted in Islamabad between 2007 and 2013 and tweets as @rezhasan.)