SAARC must deal with terrorism, obstruction in trade and connectivity: Jaishankar

PTI

External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar

External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar

The SAARC must overcome three key challenges of cross-border terrorism, blocking of connectivity and obstruction in trade, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday in clear criticism of Pakistan at a virtual meeting of the regional grouping.

In his address at the SAARC foreign ministers informal meeting, Jaishankar also called for a collective resolve to defeat the scourge of terrorism, including the forces that nurture, support and encourage an environment of terror and conflict.

India has been strongly projecting Pakistan-sponsored terrorism as well as the neighbouring country’s attempts to foil regional connectivity initiatives under the SAARC framework as a key hurdle for making
the grouping a vibrant platform for regional prosperity.

India has also been critical of Pakistan for not granting transit access for trade with Afghanistan. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was among the participants of the meeting which was organised in continuation of a tradition of informal exchanges among the foreign ministers of the grouping on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The 75th session of the UN General Assembly is currently underway.

Official sources said one of the agenda items of the ministerial meeting was the holding of the 19th SAARC Summit. Pakistan was to host it. However, most member countries felt it was not an opportune time
for the event considering that member states are preoccupied in dealing with COVID-19 situation. “So the proposal fell through due to lack of consensus,” said a source.

The meeting was chaired by Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali. In his address, Jaishankar reaffirmed India’s commitment to its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and towards building a connected, integrated and prosperous South Asia.

The external affairs minister said SAARC has made significant progress over the last 35 years but the efforts towards collective collaboration and prosperity have been hampered by acts of terrorism and threats
to national security.

“Such an environment impedes our shared objective of realising the full potential of our collective endeavour. It is, therefore, crucial that we collectively resolve to defeat the scourge of terrorism, including the forces that nurture, support and encourage it,” Jaishankar said.

He said such an approach will generate the much-needed trust and confidence to collectively build a stronger and prosperous SAARC. Besides India and Pakistan, the grouping comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

“Cross-border terrorism, blocking connectivity and obstructing trade are three key challenges that SAARC must overcome. Only then will we see enduring peace, prosperity and security in our South Asia region,” Jaishankar said in a tweet.

SAARC has not been very effective since 2016 as its biennial summits have not taken place since the last one in Kathmandu in 2014.

The 2016 SAARC Summit was to be held in Islamabad. But after the terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir on September 18 that year, India expressed its inability to participate
in the summit due to “prevailing circumstances”.

The summit was called off after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also declined to participate in the Islamabad meet. The Ministry of External Affairs, in a statement, said the meeting reviewed regional efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

It said Jaishankar highlighted a slew of measures taken by India as a follow-up to the SAARC leaders’ video conference in March, including virtually convening meetings of health professionals and trade officials and providing medical assistance to countries of the bloc in dealing with the pandemic.

He also mentioned the creation of a COVID-19 Information Exchange Platform (COINEX), facilitating foreign currency swap support and activation of a SAARC food bank mechanism. Jaishankar said under its contribution to the SAARC COVID-19 fund, India supplied essential drugs, testing kits and other equipment amounting USD 2.3 million to the SAARC countries.

He reiterated India’s continued commitment to assisting countries in the SAARC region in combating the COVID-19 pandemic