With India-Pakistan relations at a new low, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj avoided any contact with her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi as the two leaders attended a meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly.
There was speculation in media circles that the two ministers would at least exchange pleasantries when they come face-to-face at the meeting but India refused to budge from its position that there would be no interaction with Islamabad until it took steps to check cross-border terrorism.
The SAARC foreign ministers’ meet had suddenly become important last week when Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and proposed that the foreign ministers of the two countries meet in New York.
India readily accepted the proposal in the larger interest of peace in the region but called off the meeting between the two foreign ministers within 24 hours, expressing outrage over the killings of Indian security personnel by Pakistani entities.
The SAARC meeting in New York, held at the Westin Grand Central Hotel, was presided over by Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali as Nepal is currently the chair of the eight-nation grouping.
Swaraj was accompanied to the meeting by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and other senior officials. She read out her statement at the meeting and left just before her Pakistani counterpart was to make his statement. Even the Afghan foreign minister left after reading out his statement.
This upset Qureshi as he blamed India for blocking the progress of SAARC. “She (Swaraj) left mid-way. Maybe she wasn’t feeling well. I listened to her statement. She talked of regional cooperation. How is regional cooperation possible, when everybody is ready to sit and talk and you (India) are blocking that?” he said.
Pakistan has been keen to host the SAARC Summit since 2016 but India and some other countries have refused to attend it in Islamabad on the ground that the security situation in the region was not ripe for holding the meeting.
In her statement at the SAARC meeting, Swaraj singled out terrorism as the biggest threat to peace in the region. She said regional cooperation in South Asia was not possible without an environment of peace and security.
Making an indirect reference to Pakistan, Swaraj said, “Terrorism remains the single largest threat to peace and stability in our region. It is necessary that we eliminate the scourge of terrorism in all its forms, without any discrimination, and end the ecosystem of its support.”