5 diplomats, 5 hours: Story behind India’s reply to Sharif

Five Indian diplomats worked for five hours and 15 minutes in New York’s Permanent Mission to the UN office, off the 43rd street in Manhattan, before they crafted India’s sharp response to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the UN General Assembly, sources have told The Sunday Express.

And the decision to field 2005-batch IFS Officer Eenam Gambhir as the diplomat who responds to the Pakistan PM’s speech was taken on a simple logic: she is the junior most Indian officer at the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, New York.

“The idea was to pit the junior most officer as a courageous voice against a head of government. The optics were the key since the response will be viewed beyond the UNGA hall,” an Indian diplomat, who worked on the speech, said.

Shortly after Sharif’s speech ended at about 2 pm New York time on Wednesday, the Indian diplomats gathered at Indian Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin’s office, a few blocks away from UN headquarters. “We calculated, and had about five hours… and each one of us have had experience in dealing with Pakistan in some manner or the other,” the Indian diplomat said.

While Akbaruddin has been a political counsellor in Islamabad, Secretary (west) Sujata Mehta had dealt with Pakistan on numerous occasions as she had served in Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and P V Narasimha Rao’s office. Also in the room was Joint Secretary (in charge of political issues at the UN) Rudrendra Tandon — who was head of Pakistan division till recently — and Eenam Gambhir, who had worked at the Pakistan division before moving to New York as the First Secretary (in charge of counter-terrorism).

“We wanted to have a short statement of about 500 words, which can be read within 3 to 4 minutes. Although we had 10 minutes, but this is the era of short attention span, so did not want to do a long speech. It should be short so that they can be easily circulated in the social media — Twitter and Facebook, the source said. So, in the end, it was about 511 words.

The theme of the response was clear to everyone in the room — terrorism it would be. “So each paragraph had terrorism in it…even the nuclear issue was linked with terrorism,” he said.

While Mehta, who had served as India’s permanent representative at the Conference of Disarmament and is well versed with Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation record, put in that element in the speech, the phrase “Ivy League of terrorism” — which was the catchphrase is understood to have been given by a diplomat, well-versed with the concept behind media headlines.

As the Indian diplomats drafted the response, Foreign Secretary

S Jaishankar — who was in New Delhi – went through the draft before it was given a green signal.

Akbaruddin told The Sunday Express, “It was a team effort”.


The reaction on social media was robust. Within hours,

#EenamGambhir was trending on Twitter.

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