Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi did not attend the SAARC Foreign Ministers meeting in New York as long as External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was present at the meeting Thursday.
He came later, after Jaishankar left the meeting venue, and said, “Do you think I will sit down with the butcher of Kashmir?”. In a series of tweets on SAARC, Jaishankar said: “Ours is really not just a story of missed opportunities but also of deliberate obstacles. Terrorism is among them. 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.”
An Indian official, referring to Qureshi’s boycott and remark, said: “Such drama will not work. Pakistan has to create a conducive atmosphere for the SAARC process to go ahead.”
Jaishankar walked into the Westin Hotel, the meeting venue, at 1.01 pm (10.31 pm IST). At 1.19 pm, Pakistan’s ruling party Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) tweeted: “FM @SMQureshiPTI refuses to attend Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s statement at the meeting of SAARC Council of Ministers.”
Jaishankar left the meeting at 1.48 pm. Qureshi had not arrived till then — he showed up at 1.54 pm to attend the meeting. Senior officials from Pakistan, including Director General (South Asia) and spokesperson Mohammad Faisal, were, however, present at the meeting.
Jaishankar, while leaving the meeting, did not take questions. Indian officials, including Secretary (West) Gitesh Sarma, were at the meeting, and did not leave the venue with Jaishankar.
The meeting took place a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to address the UNGA after 10 am local time (7.30 pm IST).
Last year, then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had walked out of the Foreign Ministers meeting in New York after her speech, citing other engagements. She was not present when Qureshi made his speech. India had cancelled a bilateral meeting with Pakistan on the sidelines of UNGA last year.
This is the first time that Jaishankar and Qureshi were attending a multilateral meeting after the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked on August 5. The last time when the two ministers were in the same room was in London in July at the meeting of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers.
Earlier, referring to Kashmir for the third time this week, US President Donald Trump said he discussed Kashmir with leaders of India and Pakistan in his meetings with them, and offered to help with “arbitration or mediation” on the issue between two “nuclear-armed neighbours” who have to “work it out”.
“You look at the two gentlemen heading those two countries, two good friends of mine. I said, fellows work it out, just work it out. Those are two nuclear countries, gotta work it out,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. Modi and Khan are scheduled to address the UN General Assembly Friday.
In his opening statement, Trump said he had “very productive conversations” with the leaders of India and Pakistan on the margins of the UNGA. “With respect to Pakistan and India, we talked about Kashmir. Whatever help I can be, I said, I offered, whether it’s arbitration or mediation or whatever it has to be,” he said, adding that he will “do whatever he can, because, they are at very serious odds right now and hopefully that will get better.”
“You look at the two gentlemen heading those two countries, two good friends of mine. I said, fellows work it out, just work it out. Those are two nuclear countries, gotta work it out.”
Responding to the US President’s comments, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India’s position is “very clear”. “I think it has been articulated by the Prime Minister earlier. It was articulated yesterday by the Foreign Secretary, so that position remains,” he said.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had told reporters after the Modi-Trump bilateral meeting that the Prime Minister “made it clear that we are not shying away from talks with Pakistan”.
“But for that to happen, we expect some concrete steps to be taken by Pakistan. And we do not find any effort by Pakistan taking those steps,” Gokhale had said.
India has always maintained that Kashmir is a bilateral issue and no third party has any role in it. Pakistan has been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue after India withdrew the special status of J&K, but New Delhi has asserted the scrapping of Article 370 is its “internal matter”.