United Nations, Sep 28 : In a huge snub to Pakistan, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj left a meeting of the SAARC foreign ministers early, which was attended by her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, after issuing a call to end the eco-system of terrorism.
Swaraj made a strong statement on terrorism threatening peace and stability in South Asia, saying Regional cooperation in South Asia is not possible without an environment of peace and security.
“The number of threats and incidents that endanger South Asia are on the rise. Terrorism remains the single-largest threat to peace and stability in our region, and indeed in the world. It is necessary that we eliminate the scourge of terrorism in all its forms, without any discrimination, and end the ecosystem of its support,” the foreign minister said in an indirect reference to Pakistan as she addressed the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) foreign ministers held in New York on the margins of the 73rd UN General Assembly and chaired by foreign minister of Nepal Pradeep Kumar Gyawali on Thursday.
“I would like to stress that meetings, including high-level ones, can only be effective if expressions of resolve are translated in to concrete action on the ground,” the minister said.
After making her statement, she left the meeting early, prompting criticism from Qureshi who later told reporters, “No, I didn’t have any talk with her (Swaraj). On the positive gesture, I can say she left the meeting mid-way, may be she was not feeling well”.
Indian diplomatic sources told that it was quite normal in a multilateral meeting to leave early after one has delivered the country’s statement.
Qureshi later took a nasty swipe at Sushma Swaraj telling the Pakistani media that maybe she was feeling unwell, according to Samaa TV.
Qureshi, however, accused India of blocking Saarc progress and said Sushma Swaraj “spoke about regional cooperation, but how will such mutual cooperation come about if the countries in the region are ready to sit down and you are creating a barrier to these talks”, according to Samaa.
After India had called off talks between the two ministers, Sushma avoided any type of interaction with Pakistan minister at the Saarc meeting .
The Saarc event was billed as an “Informal Council of Ministers Meeting”.
However, the Indian Minister, who has been keeping a grueling schedule this week, went on to have her scheduled meetings with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Walid al Muallem.
Before the Saarc event, she had spoken at the meetings of the IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and BRICS (Brazil Russia, India, China and South Africa).
In her address to the Saarc meeting, Sushma Swaraj did not name Pakistan while talking of “scourge of terrorism”.
“An environment of peace and security is essential for regional cooperation to progress and achieve economic development and prosperity of our people. The number of threats and incidents that endanger South Asia’s are on the rise.
“It is necessary that we eliminate the scourge of terrorism in all its forms,A without any discrimination, and end the ecosystem of its support,” she said.
Most of her speech, though, was about a positive outlook for Saarc.
“We attach highest priority to the development and prosperity of our region, under our ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.”
Sushma Swaraj mentioned several successful projects like the South Asia satellite, the Saarc Disaster Management Centre, the South Asian University, extending India’s Knowledge Network and the Saarc agreements on motor vehicle and railways.
“To realise our immense potential for trade, it is imperative that the further trade liberalization under South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) and operationalisation of Saarc Agreement on Trade in Services (Satis) are done at the earliest.”
India initially agreed last week to recently-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan’s request for holding talks between Sushma Swaraj and Qureshi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting.
However, New Delhi cancelled the talks a day later after three Indian police personnel were killed in Kashmir and Pakistan issued a stamp honouring a terrorist leader.