Jaishankar says terrorism impedes prosperity in South Asia, Qureshi says resolving outstanding disputes must for cooperation within bloc. As he joined his counterparts from the other SAARC nations in a virtual meeting, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar took a tacit dig at Pakistan for exporting terror, and thus hindering cooperation within the SAARC

India and some of the other South Asian nations on Thursday foiled Pakistan’s renewed move to get the consent of the SAARC to host the long-pending 19th summit of the regional organization.

Nepal, which currently holds the chair of the SAARC, also stressed on holding the summit of the eight-nation-bloc early. India and most of the other members of the organization, however, expressed the view that it was not an opportune time to hold the conclave as they were preoccupied with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As he joined his counterparts from the other SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nations in a virtual meeting, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar took a tacit dig at Pakistan for exporting terror to India and other nations and thus hindering cooperation within the SAARC for development and prosperity in South Asia. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the other hand indirectly raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and said that the peaceful resolution of outstanding disputes was a “pre-requisite” for achieving development, poverty alleviation and social upliftment in the region.

Qureshi reiterated the willingness of the Pakistan Government to host the 19th SAARC summit and said that the obstacles created in the way of holding the conclave should be removed for the bloc to function as an effective instrument of regional cooperation.

The 19th SAARC summit had been scheduled to be hosted by the Pakistan Government in Islamabad on November 9 and 10 in 2016. It had been postponed after New Delhi had decided to opt-out, protesting cross-border terrorism coming from the territory under the control of Pakistan, particularly the attacks on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot in Punjab in January 2016 and the Indian Army’s brigade headquarters at Uri in Kashmir in September 2016. The other SAARC nations had also followed suit and the summit had been postponed indefinitely.

Pradeep Kumar Gyawali of Nepal chaired the virtual meeting of the SAARC Foreign Ministers on Thursday. He urged the SAARC member states to explore all viable options to hold the 19th Summit at an early date and to generate the new momentum and dynamism in the regional organization, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Nepalese Government.

Nepal has been holding the chair of the SAARC since the 18th summit that it had hosted in November 2014.

During the virtual meeting on Thursday, Nepal’s national statement was presented by its Foreign Secretary, Shanker Das Bairagi, who noted that holding the 19th SAARC Summit had remained stalled for a long period. He also pointed out that the meetings of the SAARC Council of Ministers and Standing Committee also remained pending since 2016. “We believe that the formal mechanisms of SAARC must function properly. The early holding of the 19th Summit has become imperative to further the SAARC process. We hope that the Council will make an appropriate decision on this vital matter,” said Nepalese Foreign Secretary.

New Delhi’s relations with Beijing came under stress over the past few months after Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli ratcheted up his country’s territorial disputes with India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government suspects that Pakistan’s all-weather ally China has played a role in straining the ties between India and Nepal – at a time when the Indian Army is already engaged in a stand-off with the communist country’s People’s Liberation Army along the disputed boundary between the two nations in eastern Ladakh.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi stated that the virtual meeting on Thursday saw several SAARC Foreign Ministers appreciating the leadership of the Prime Minister of India in convening a video conference of the leaders of the bloc on March 15 this year to initiate collaborative measures for combating the pandemic in the region.

Jaishankar highlighted a slew of measures taken by India in the follow-up to the video conference of the SAARC leaders on March 15, including virtually convening health professionals and trade officials meetings, creating a COVID-19 Information Exchange Platform (COINEX), foreign currency swap support, and activation of SAARC Food Bank mechanism. He informed that under India’s contribution to SAARC Covid-19 Emergency Fund, the supply of essential drugs, medical consumables, protection, and testing kits, and other equipment, amounting $ 2.3 million, were made available to the countries in the region.

He reiterated India’s continued commitment to assisting SAARC countries in combating COVID-19 pandemic and in building a connected, integrated, secure, and prosperous South Asia.