Pakistan Foreign Minister Boycotts Jaishankar’s Speech at SAARC Meeting in New York

Qureshi’s decision not to listen to Jaishankar's speech mirrored the proceedings of last year.

New Delhi: Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi boycotted the address of Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar at the meeting of SAARC council of ministers at New York on Thursday.

Pakistan also claimed that the foreign ministers had agreed “in principle” to hold a SAARC summit in Islamabad soon. This was disputed by Indian official sources, who said that Qureshi was reminded by the Nepalese foreign minister that the meeting was not the right forum to decide on dates. Every year, foreign ministers from the seven members of the South Asian body meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Qureshi’s decision not to listen to Jaishankar’s speech mirrored the proceedings of last year. In September 2018, Sushma Swaraj had left the meeting midway after delivering her statement. She was in New York just a few days after India called off a bilateral meeting with Pakistan.

This year, Qureshi appeared late at the meeting, so that he wouldn’t have to listen to Jaishankar. There was an empty seat next to a senior diplomat and official spokesperson of Pakistan foreign ministry, Mohammad Faisal.

After delivering his remarks, the Indian external affairs minister left the room. A few minutes later, Qureshi arrived and entered the meeting hall.

Later, speaking to reporters, Qureshi confirmed that the delay in his arrival had been deliberate. “It is not possible for me to sit with the murderer of Kashmiris,” he said, as per Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

Earlier, before the meeting, the official account of the ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, had also indicated that Pakistan will not engage with the “butcher of Kashmir until and unless they lift the siege & put an end to atrocities in Occupied Kashmir”.

After Indian parliament approved the modification of Article 370 to change the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan had downgraded diplomatic relations, snapped trade ties and begun a campaign against New Delhi’s move to place restrictions in the state.

The Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson, Faisal, who was present at the meeting, also claimed that SAARC will “finally move forward” as the foreign ministers agreed to hold the summit “soon” in Islamabad.

However, Indian official sources claimed that it was an inaccurate description of the proceedings. Even after Jaishankar left, MEA’s Secretary (West) A. Gitesh Sarma had remained at the meeting.

According to sources, Qureshi had proposed to put forward the suggested dates for the meeting. “Nepal chair said that this was an informal meeting and not a forum to decide on the next Summit. Dates should be through diplomatic channels,” they said.

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There has been no SAARC leaders’ summit since 2016, when India boycotted the meeting in Pakistan after the terror attack on an Indian army base in Uri. Afghanistan and Bangladesh had also followed suit.

In his speech, Jaishankar stated that the reason South Asia lagged behind was “because South Asia does not have normal trade and connectivity that other regions do”.

While he did not name Pakistan, Jaishankar was pointing the finger at the neighbouring country for objecting to several connectivity proposals backed by India. “It is unfortunate that we have not made any headway with respect to some connectivity initiatives such as Motor Vehicles and Railways Agreements. Similarly, there has been no progress in SAARC Regional Air Services Agreement, initiated by India.”

He also asserted that the region was facing the deliberate obstacle of “terrorism”. “In our view, elimination of terrorism in all its forms is a precondition not only for fruitful cooperation but also for the very survival of our region itself,” added Jaishankar.