Eliminating terror key to Saarc survival: India
India has said that collaboration under the umbrella of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) and the survival of the region depends on eliminating terrorism, which has become one of the “deliberate obstacles” for the grouping.
In a thinly veiled attack on Pakistan, external affairs minister S Jaishankar told an informal meeting of Saarc foreign ministers on the margins of the UN General Assembly on Thursday that there was a need to fully implement the Saarc Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism, including national legislation to root out terror.
Despite Pakistan’s Foreign Office saying the meeting had decided in principle to hold the much-delayed 19th Saarc Summit in Islamabad soon, people familiar with developments said the grouping’s current chair, Nepal, had made it clear that this should be decided through diplomatic channels.
“In our view, elimination of terrorism in all its forms is a precondition not only for fruitful cooperation, but also for the very survival of our region itself,” Jaishankar said in statement at the meeting, held every year on the sidelines of the General Assembly.
“Ours is really not just a story of missed opportunities but also of deliberate obstacles. Terrorism is among them,” he said. Referring to the statement issued in Kathmandu in 2014, calling for full and effective implementation of the convention on terrorism, he said Saarc’s relevance “would be determined by these actions against terrorism”.
The 19th Saarc Summit, which was to be held in Islamabad in November 2016, was put off indefinitely after India pulled out over the issue of Pakistan-backed terrorism. Several Saarc members backed India’s stance at the time.
Following Thursday’s meeting, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal tweeted that the foreign ministers had agreed in principle for the summit “to be held in Islamabad soon”. “Pakistan to convey the dates. SAARC to finally move forward,” he said.
However, people familiar with the developments said the Saarc chair made it clear that the New York meeting was an informal one and not the forum to decide on the summit. “Dates should be decided through diplomatic channels,” said a person who didn’t want to be named.
The meeting was also marked by some drama, with Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi boycotting it for the duration of Jaishankar’s speech. Pakistan’s ruling party tweeted Qureshi’s action was meant to protest the restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir.
Qureshi showed up minutes after Jaishankar left following his statement. People familiar with the developments said his action illustrated the point Jaishankar had made inside, about obstructions to Saarc’s progress.
In his speech, Jaishankar highlighted India’s commitment to Saarc by citing initiatives such as the South Asian Satellite, launched by New Delhi in 2017 for healthcare, education, disaster response and weather forecasting, the South Asian University, which currently has 580 students, and the Saarc Disaster Management Centre in Gujarat that has trained more than 350 people.
“Regionalism has taken root in every corner of the world. If we have lagged behind, it is because South Asia does not have the normal trade and connectivity that other regions do,” he said.