India and Pakistan crossed swords over terrorism and Jammu and Kashmir at the Foreign Minister’s meetings of the 8-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the 27-nation Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). However, unlike similar occasions in the past, neither side walked out during the events held via video-conference on Thursday.
Speaking at the South Asian meeting, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar called on all SAARC members to “collectively resolve to defeat the scourge of terrorism, including the forces that nurture, support and encourage an environment of terror and conflict, which impede the objective of SAARC to realise its full potential for collective collaboration and prosperity across South Asia”, without a direct reference to Pakistan.
Veiled reference to J&K
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who also attended the meet along with the Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, used the SAARC platform to make a detailed statement on the resolution of “long-standing disputes”, a veiled reference to Jammu and Kashmir and New Delhi’s 2019 move to withdraw Article 370.
“The Foreign Minister said we must condemn, oppose any unilateral and illegal measures to change the status of disputed territories in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions,” the official Pakistan news agencies reported.
The reports said Mr. Qureshi also referred to “systematic human rights violations of the people suffering from long-running disputes”.
A similar statement was made at the CICA Special Ministerial conference, that brings together Asian nations ranging from Russia and Central Asia to the Gulf and South-East Asia.
India rebutted Mr. Qureshi in its right to reply, said the MEA. “We advise Pakistan to cease its sponsorship and overt and covert support to terrorism against India,” India said.
MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said Pakistan’s statements at both events were “inconsistent” with the mandates of SAARC and CICA, where bilateral contentious issues are not raised. “What else can be expected of a country that indulges in cross-border terrorism as a part of its state policy,” Mr. Srivastava added.
Last week, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had walked off from a virtual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) after his Pakistani counterpart appeared with a Pakistani version of its map that included Indian territories. Last year, at the SAARC Foreign Minister’s meeting held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Qureshi had boycotted each other’s speeches.
PM Modi had also refused to attend the 19th edition of the SAARC summit, due to be held in Islamabad in 2016, over the issue of Pakistan’s continued support to terror groups.
Speaking at the SAARC FM meet, however, Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and Nepal’s Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi both said it is “imperative” to hold the SAARC summit.
“The delay in convening the 19th SAARC Summit and the absence of formal meetings of the SAARC Charter bodies since 2016, has greatly impacted the functioning of our organisation,” said Mr. Gyawali, adding that this “has raised a serious question about the relevancy” of SAARC.
However, sources said “most countries” agreed it is not the “opportune time” to convene the summit as proposed by Pakistan, given the COVID-19 situation, and the proposal “fell through”.
All SAARC nations including India and Pakistan, however, built a common stand on the need to cooperate in battling the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Jaishankar listed a number of measures taken by India in the past few months including the SAARC Leaders video-conference convened by Mr. Modi, a ‘COVID-19 Information Exchange Platform (COINEX), a SAARC Food Bank mechanism, as well as the SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund, to which India has contributed $10 million, making essential drugs, COVID protection and testing kits, amounting to $ 2.3 million available to countries in the SAARC region.