Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley is unlikely to attend a key Saarc meeting in Pakistan next week, marking an escalation in the diplomatic row between the two countries.
Jaitley is not expected to join the meeting of finance ministers of the regional grouping in Islamabad during August 25-26, official sources told Hindustan Times on Tuesday.
Economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das, included in the delegation that was to accompany Jaitley, is likely to represent India at the meet, the sources said. The government is also evaluating the option of sending a minister of state as the official representative, the sources added.
A formal announcement is yet to be made by the government.
Soon after news broke on Tuesday that Jaitley would skip the meet in Islamabad, defence minister Manohar Parrikar was quoted as saying that “going to Pakistan is the same as going to hell”.
Addressing a BJP meeting at Rewari in Haryana, Parrikar said Indian troops had “sent back” five terrorists on Monday. He added: “Pakistan mein jaana aur nark mein jaana eik hi hai.” He also said Pakistan was facing the consequences of its policy of encouraging terrorism.
Earlier this month, home minister Rajnath Singh’s experiences while attending a meeting of Saarc interior ministers in Islamabad on August 4 had added to bilateral tensions.
Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan traded barbs over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir while addressing the meet. The two ministers barely shook hands and stayed away from a lunch hosted for the Saarc ministers. While addressing the Saarc meet, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif angered India by referring to “the freedom movement” in Jammu and Kashmir.
The finance minister’s absence at the Saarc meet is expected to add to concerns about the regional grouping being hit by periodic tensions between India and Pakistan.
The past few days have witnessed a sharp rise in tensions between the two neighbours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Pakistan would have to answer for alleged rights abuses in Balochisan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Modi also became the first Indian premier to raixse Balochistan in an Independence Day speech on Monday.
Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz responded by saying Modi was trying to divert the world’s attention from the situation in Kashmir. He also said Modi’s remarks proved Pakistan’s allegation that India was “fomenting terrorism in Balochistan”.
The bilateral tensions have coincided with unrest in Jammu and Kashmir that erupted after security forces killed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, whom Pakistan has described as a “Kashmiri leader”.
Pakistan’s offer of talks on the Kashmir issue has been rejected by India, which said any dialogue should focus on terrorism.