NEW YORK, Sept 27: Foreign Ministers from India and Pakistan boycotted each other’s address to a meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on Thursday on the sidelines of the 74th UN General Assembly in New York.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Pakistani foreign minister, did not attend his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar’s address, joining the meeting only after Jaishankar left the hall. Likewise, Jaishankar did not return for Qureshi’s speech either.
The incident marked the continuation of a cold war that began last year when then Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had walked out before her Pakistani counterpart's address. The meeting, which was convened by Nepal in the capacity of the current chair of the eight-member regional body, was expected to pave the way for icebreaker dialogue between the two South Asian neighbors.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said that although they didn’t meet each other both India and Pakistani minister stressed the need to further strengthen regional cooperation. “I think it was just a coincidence," Gyawali said when asked about the issue.
Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar didn’t speak to the media while emerging from the meeting. Later on, he tweeted stressing the need for regional cooperation. “Regionalism has taken root in every corner of the world. If we have lagged behind, it is because South Asia does not have normal trade and connectivity that other regions do,” he tweeted. Jaishankar also said that the elimination of terrorism in the region is important for the survival of the region. Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi, however, said that he couldn’t sit and talk with India while vehemently criticizing India for 'brutal killings in Kashmir.’
While speaking in the meeting, Qureshi said his country was ready to host the long-delayed SAARC summit anytime soon. “Pakistan side said they were ready to host the next SAARC summit and even propose the specific date. But we didn’t discuss the specific dates because it was just an informal meeting and it did not have the mandate to make such decisions," he said.
The 19th SAARC summit has not been held for the last four years after Nepal hosted the summit in Kathmandu in 2014. The Kathmandu summit had decided to hold the 19th summit in Islamabad in 2016, but it was canceled after India declined to attend the summit accusing Pakistan of launching a terrorist attack on its army base in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir.
The relation between the two countries is at its lowest ebb after India abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, ending a special autonomy granted to India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir.
"Although there is an uncomfortable situation in the region but none of the member states have said that the SAARC has become irrelevant," Foreign Minister Gyawali said.
“SAARC countries have strong realization for regional cooperation, economic integration and cooperation on trade and tourism. They have common challenges such as climate change, terrorism and poverty,” said Gyawali.