–Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj walks out of SAARC meet before Pakistan’s statement
–Qureshi says India’s unbecoming behaviour hindering regional connectivity
–Says war is not an option with India, only solution is dialogue
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that India is a barrier to regional connectivity after his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, left a SAARC meeting before hearing Pakistan’s statement the other day.
Qureshi was speaking to the media after an annual ministerial meeting of SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] on the sidelines of the 73rd UNGA. The meeting was hosted and chaired by the foreign minister of Nepal and was attended by the foreign ministers of SAARC member states.
Referring to India, the foreign minister said one country’s behaviour was a barrier to regional connectivity and well-being and added that the regional cooperation body has been unable to make significant progress.
When asked if he spoke to Sushma, Qureshi said the Indian minister left in the middle of the SAARC meeting. He also said he paid careful attention to her statement and call for regional cooperation but how could such an objective be possible when India was acting as a barrier to said cooperation?
“The foreign minister emphasised that one country was holding the 1.7 billion people of South Asia hostage, while making vague statements and unsubstantiated, whimsical allegations. The SAARC summit has already been delayed by two years, with no end in sight,” said a statement by the Foreign Office (FO).
Earlier, the Indian External Affairs Ministry had confirmed that foreign ministers of Pakistan and India would meet on the sidelines of the UNGA session, but the Narendra Modi-led government backed out of the talks a day later.
The Indian Foreign Ministry said the talks were called off after the “latest brutal killings of security personnel by Pakistan-based entities and the recent release of a series of twenty postage stamps by Pakistan glorifying a terrorist and terrorism”. It did not provide further details about the alleged killings.
Reacting to the cancellation of talks, FM Qureshi said India had not responded positively to Pakistan’s invitation for dialogue. “It seems that India is already preparing for its elections due in the country next year,” he said. “Pakistan had asked for the talks in the larger interest of the region.”
‘WAR NOT AN OPTION’:
Separately, in an interview with Al Jazeera, Qureshi stressed that dialogue is the only solution of the issues between India and Pakistan, calling war “not an option”.
The FM referred to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first public address on July 26, in which he said, “You [India] take one step towards peace, we will take two.”
The foreign minister pointed out the premier’s subsequent requests for constructive, peaceful dialogue with India as part of the new government’s approach.
“What we did… We thought we made sense. Two neighbours with outstanding issues, atomic powers. How do you fix things? War is no option. There is no military solution. The only solution is a dialogue.”
Despite PM Imran’s overtures to India to engage in dialogue, India cancelled the first planned talks between the two countries since 2015 that was meant to have taken place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week. The cancellation of talks came hours after three policemen were killed by militants in Kashmir.
Citing the “brutal killings of our security personnel by Pakistan-based entities” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign ministry added that the release of a series of 20 postage stamps depicting a young Kashmiri rebel commander killed by Indian troops in July 2016 was “glorifying a terrorist and terrorism.”
On allegations of aiding the Taliban, FM Qureshi said that previous Pakistani governments had been “helping their own country”.
“They were helping overcome a situation which was not of their own creation. Who were these people? Who supported them? Who trained them? We forget history and at times we overlook that friends change. People that you support, some of the people, were called extremists. Weren’t they invited to the US? Weren’t they entertained in the White House? So, friends change. Circumstances change. We were just defending and protecting ourselves.”
Although FM Qureshi expressed that the US, as a global power, expects “special treatment”, he said that Pakistan does hope “to be friends” with the US, while exercising its option to cultivate relations with China and others.
“We want the US to be friends with Pakistan. We recognise that the US is an important global power, and they will continue to be a military, technological and economic power in the foreseeable future. They are looking at different options; they are looking at new friends in the region. We do have friends who have been consistent and very valuable. China is one of them. The others who recognise how important, how strategically located Pakistan is and to understand Pakistan’s importance. So, we are not alone and everyone has options,” he said.