• Thursday, August 18, 2022

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Pakistan ready to host SAARC meet, India can join virtually: Qureshi

A scene from the 2014 SAARC Summit which was held in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo by NIRANJAN SHRESTHA/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

PAKISTANI foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Monday (3) said that Islamabad is ready to host the 19th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit and India can join virtually if New Delhi is not willing to send representatives to attend the event physically.

Speaking in a press conference to highlight the Pakistani foreign affairs ministry in 2021, Qureshi accused India of making SAARC dysfunctional through its stubbornness by refusing to attend the meeting in the Pakistani capital.

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Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (Photo by CELINE GESRET/AFP via Getty Images)

“I reiterate the invitation for the 19th SAARC summit. If India is not ready to come to Islamabad, it can join virtually… but it should not stop others from attending the moot,” he said.

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SAARC – a regional grouping comprising, besides India and Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Formed in 1985, the SAARC has seen only 18 summits held so far with the last one taking place in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2014. One of the major reasons that has hindered the regional body’s progress is the enmity between two of its largest members – India and Pakistan.

The 2016 edition of the summit (which is supposed to be held biennially) was originally planned to be held in Islamabad in November 2016 but India refused to attend it due to “prevailing circumstances” following a terror attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir in September that year.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif at the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, Nepal, in November 2014. (Photo by NIRANJAN SHRESTHA/AFP via Getty Images)

The summit was eventually scrapped after other members such as Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan (which was then ruled by a West-backed and India-friendly regime) also refused to take part.

Noting that there was change in relations with India in 2021, Qureshi said the alleged dominance of “Hindutva thinking” in India for disrupting the prospects of positive ties between the two South Asian neighbours.

“Unfortunately, ties with India in 2021 were frozen. In our view, the potential of regional cooperation has been hit by aggressive Hindutva behaviour in recent years,” he said.

The Pakistani foreign minister said Islamabad wanted peaceful ties with all its neighbours, including India, but the onus was on India for improving the relations.

Qureshi also said that peace with India was not possible till the Kashmir issue was resolved.

The bilateral ties between India and Pakistan received a further blow after New Delhi withdrew the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two union territories in August 2019.

India has told Pakistan that it wants to have a normal neighbourly relation with the neighbouring country in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence.

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