New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said Thursday that cross-border terrorism remains one of the main challenges that need to be overcome to make the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) more meaningful, even as member countries turned down Pakistan’s proposal to host the grouping’s pending summit meeting.
Jaishankar tweeted after the virtual informal meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers, held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, that “cross-border terrorism, blocking connectivity and obstructing trade are three key challenges that SAARC must overcome”.
“Only then will we see enduring peace, prosperity and security in our south Asia region,” he said.
Cross-border terrorism, blocking connectivity and obstructing trade are three key challenges that SAARC must overcome.
Only then will we see enduring peace, prosperity and security in our South Asia region.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) September 24, 2020
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also attended Thursday’s meeting and expressed his country’s “willingness to host the 19th SAARC summit and for obstacles created in its way to be removed for SAARC to function as an effective instrument of regional cooperation”.
However, most member countries felt it was not an opportune time for the event, considering that member states are preoccupied in dealing with the Covid-19 situation. So, the proposal fell through due to lack of consensus, according to government sources.
Qureshi also referred to the Kashmir issue in the meeting without taking its name.
“Highlighted need to condemn & oppose unilateral/illegal measures to change status of disputed territories in violation of UNSC resolutions. Such unilateral measures run counter to shared objective of #SAARC to create regional amity and cooperation & must be opposed resolutely,” he tweeted after the meeting.
Highlighted need to condemn & oppose unilateral/illegal measures to change status of disputed territories in violation of UNSC resolutions. Such unilateral measures run counter to shared objective of #SAARC to create regional amity and cooperation & must be opposed resolutely. https://t.co/DN4KBsEKuj
— Shah Mahmood Qureshi (@SMQureshiPTI) September 24, 2020
The SAARC process got stalled when India called for “diplomatic isolation” of Pakistan in 2016, after the terrorist attack on a military camp in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir, that killed 19 soldiers. Subsequently, India boycotted the 2016 SAARC Summit, which was to be hosted by Pakistan.
While other SAARC member countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives supported India’s move at that time, eventually, Colombo, Dhaka and Kathmandu stepped up the pressure on New Delhi to let the SAARC process move.
Once the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the initiative to hold a SAARC summit of sorts in March this year. The countries’ leaders focussed on Covid cooperation and announced the creation of a SAARC Covid Fund.
The last SAARC summit was held on 26-27 November 2014 in Kathmandu.
(This report has been updated with new information emerging from the virtual meeting)
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