By Arul Louis
United Nations, Sep 28 (IANS) Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj carefully avoided any interaction with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meeting of ministers, walking out after issuing a call to end the eco-system of terrorism.
After India had called off talks between the two ministers, the focus was on the Saarc meeting here on Thursday which put them in close proximity and Sushma Swaraj took no chances.
She delivered her speech with the warning, “terrorism remains the single largest threat to peace and stability in our region, and indeed in the world”, and left the meeting at the Hotel Westin Grand before Qureshi’s speech.
The Saarc event was billed as an “Informal Council of Ministers Meeting”.
Qureshi later took a nasty swipe at Sushma Swaraj telling the Pakistani media that maybe she was feeling unwell, according to Samaa TV.
However, the Indian Minister, who has been keeping a gruelling 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.”
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.
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.
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said while announcing the cancellation of the talks that Pakistan’s “the evil agenda” had been exposed and the “true face of the new Prime Minister of Pakistan has been revealed to the world”.
Initial overtures by Indian Prime Minister Modi for peace talks and developing friendly ties were sabotaged by Pakistani military-backed terrrorists.
With the latest effort for resuming talks meeting a similar fate, Sushma Swaraj apparently did not want to chance even an informal greeting at the Saarc meeting.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)