Pakistan Foreign Minister boycotts Jaishankar's opening statement at SAARC meeting, points at Kashmir issue

United Nations: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday boycotted External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar's opening statement at the meeting of the SAARC Council of Foreign Ministers, saying his country will not engage with India "until and unless" it lifts the "siege" in Kashmir.

The meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session here started in his absence. Qureshi "refuses to attend Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar's statement at the meeting of SAARC Council of Ministers," Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party tweeted. Pakistan will not engage with India "until and unless they lift the siege" in Kashmir, it said.

"They must safeguard human rights of Kashmiris, ensure they are protected and not violated or trampled upon," it added. Qureshi arrived only after Jaishankar left the room after delivering his statement. When asked about coming late for the meeting, Qureshi said he doesn't want to sit with the Indian minister as a protest over Kashmir.

Jaishankar said "No" when asked to comment on the absence of his Pakistani counterpart during his opening statement. Tensions between the two countries have spiked since India abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August. India's decision evoked strong reactions from Pakistan, which downgraded diplomatic ties and expelled the Indian ambassador.

Pakistan has been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue after India withdrew the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, but New Delhi has asserted the abrogation of Article 370 was its "internal matter". The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional grouping in Asia comprising India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

Last year, the then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj left the room after her statement at the SAARC Council of Ministers' meeting, amid tensions between the two countries following the brutal killings of three policemen in Jammu and Kashmir and Islamabad releasing postage stamps "glorifying" a slain Kashmiri militant. The 2016 SAARC Summit was to be held in Islamabad. But after a deadly terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir in September 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. Maldives and Sri Lanka are the seventh and eighth members of the initiative. SAARC Summits are usually held biennially hosted by a member state in alphabetical order. The last SAARC Summit in 2014 was held in Kathmandu.

By Yoshita Singh/PTI

Free Press Journal

www.freepressjournal.in