NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood on Wednesday spoke of “state terrorism" against a “people under occupation" in a veiled allusion to Kashmir at an international conference, seemingly dashing hopes of re-engagement attempts between India and Pakistan at the forum.
Qureshi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj were attending the Council of Foreign Ministers’ meet of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Bishkek. India and Pakistan were admitted in 2017 as members of the group that is dominated by China and Russia.
Official dialogue between India and Pakistan has been at a standstill since 2013 and ties nosedived after a suicide bomber killed 40 security personnel in Pulwama on 14 February. India, blaming the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist group, launched a “preemptive" air strike on a terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, following which Pakistan launched an abortive air raid on military installations in Kashmir on 27 February.
Hopes that Bishkek might emerge as the venue for a possible thaw in ties rose after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general secretary Ram Madhav told Bloomberg that a summit of SCO leaders expected to take place in June could provide the opportunity for an India-Pakistan prime ministerial meet.
However, Qureshi’s references to “state terrorism" against “people under occupation" and the need to address the “root cause" of terrorism to ensure peace in South Asia seem to have queered the pitch. Qureshi also spoke of efforts to integrate South Asia and regional cooperation being stymied by “political differences". The opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, a land crossing to allow Indian pilgrims to visit a Sikh shrine in Pakistan, is an example of the SCO’s cooperative spirit, Qureshi said.
Swaraj, who spoke before Qureshi referred to the Pulwama attack in India and the 21 April Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka as she called on SCO members to extend cooperation to fight terrorism. “We are determined to consistently strengthen cooperation within the SCO framework for comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security," she said.
On Afghanistan, which shares borders with several central Asian states that are members of the SCO, Swaraj said India was in favour of a “united, peaceful, secure, stable, inclusive and economically vibrant nation, with guaranteed gender and human rights". The remark comes against the backdrop of the US holding peace talks with Taliban militants to negotiate a pull-out by US-led foreign troops.
Swaraj also spoke of India’s commitment to building regional connectivity and listed out projects that New Delhi was part of or promoting, including the Chabahar port in Iran, which aims to connect India to landlocked Central Asia and Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. “We welcome regional connectivity initiatives that are inclusive, sustainable, transparent and respect the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity," Swaraj said in an oblique reference to China’s Belt and Road Initiative that New Delhi opposes.
Though there was no confirmation of an official meeting between Swaraj and Qureshi, the two were seen seated next to each other in pictures published online by Pakistani media.
A person familiar with the development said only pleasantries were exchanged with nothing substantive discussed.
Earlier in the day, Swaraj called on Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov and met Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the foreign minsters’ meet.