Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Monday that his country was ready to host the 19th SAARC Summit and India can join it virtually if the leadership in New Delhi is not willing to visit Islamabad. Addressing a press conference to highlight the achievements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2021, Qureshi accused India of making SAARC dysfunctional through its stubbornness by refusing to come to Islamabad for the Summit meeting.
”I reiterate the invitation for the 19th SAARC summit. If India is not ready to come to Islamabad, it can join virtually but it should not stop others from attending the moot, he said. SAARC – a regional grouping comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – has not been very effective since 2016 and its biennial summits have not taken place since the last one in Kathmandu in 2014.
The 2016 SAARC Summit was originally planned to be held in Islamabad on November 15-19, 2016. But after a terror attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir on September 18 that year, India expressed its inability to participate in the summit due to ”prevailing circumstances”. The summit was called off after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also declined to participate in the Islamabad meet.
Noting that there was no change in relations with India in 2021, Qureshi cited the alleged dominance of Hindutva thinking in India for sabotaging the prospects of good ties between the two countries. Unfortunately, ties with India in 2021 were frozen. In our view, the potential of regional cooperation has been hit by aggressive Hindutva behaviour in recent years,” he said.
He said Pakistan wanted peaceful ties with all its neighbours, including India, but the responsibility for improving the relations was on India. Qureshi said peace with India was not possible without resolving the Kashmir issue.
The bilateral relations deteriorated after India withdrew the special powers of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two union territories in August, 2019. India has told Pakistan that it desires normal neighbourly relations with Islamabad in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence.
Qureshi dwelt at length on Pakistan’s ties with the rest of the world and concluded by saying that political, economic and diplomatic relations improved last year with the entire world, including the US, Russia and China. Qureshi specially mentioned that the ties with Bangladesh were improving and Prime Minister Imran Khan has interacted with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina.
He said Khan invited Hasina to visit Pakistan who also invited him to visit Bangladesh. To a question on the reported Cold War’ between China and the United States, he said Pakistan’s policy was clear and Islamabad will not become a part of any camp.
Responding to another question on removal of fencing by the Taliban forces on the border, he said Pakistan carried out the fencing work and was aware of the latest incidents (of its removal) while adding that Afghanistan is our friend and we will be able to resolve it. Qureshi’s remarks on the SAARC Summit came after Pakistan Prime Minister Khan last month expressed hope that his country would host the much-delayed meeting when the ”artificial obstacle” created in its way is removed.
Khan made the remarks during his meeting with Secretary-General of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Esala Ruwan Weerakoon, who paid a courtesy call on the Prime Minister here.