Gloves come off just a little for India, Pak at SCO conclave
India and Pakistan on Friday took a veiled swipe at each other at a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar demanding tough action against cross-border terrorism and his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari calling for not getting caught up in “weaponising terrorism for diplomatic point-scoring”.
In his address at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Benaulim, Goa, Jaishankar said the channel of finances for terror activities must be blocked without any distinction even as Bhutto Zardari raised the issue of “violation of international law” which was seen as an apparent reference to Kashmir.
The SCO norms do not allow raking up bilateral issues and the two foreign ministers did not name any country and made the comments indirectly.
Chairing the conclave, Jaishankar said taking the “eyes off terrorism” would be detrimental to the security interests of the grouping and that when the world was engaged in facing the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences, the menace of terrorism continued unabated, in another veiled reference to Pakistan.
“We must not allow anybody — individual or State — to hide behind non-State actors,” Jaishankar said in the presence of Bhutto Zardari and his counterparts from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
“Taking our eyes off the menace would be detrimental to our security interests. We firmly believe that there can be no justification for terrorism and it must be stopped in all its forms and manifestations including cross-border terrorism,” he added.
In his address, the Pakistan foreign minister talked about the need for ensuring respect for universally recognised principles and said, “Unilateral and illegal measures by States in violation of international law and Security Council resolutions run counter to the SCO objectives.”
“We need to be unambiguous in keeping our commitments and charting out a new future for our people. One that is not based on conflict preservation but on conflict resolution,” he said.
Though Bhutto Zardari did not make any specific references or elaborated on the context, his remarks were largely seen as an indirect reference to India’s policy on Kashmir.
The ties between India and Pakistan came under severe strain after India announced withdrawing special powers of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcation of the state into two union territories in August 2019.
While expressing Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism, Bhutto Zardari also appeared to take a swipe at India as he called for not getting caught up in “weaponising terrorism for diplomatic point scoring”.
“We must stop conflating non-State actors with State actors,” he noted.
The Pakistan foreign minister also pitched for collective security and said it was a joint responsibility of the member nations.
“Terrorism continues to threaten global security. Let’s not get caught up in weaponising terrorism for diplomatic point scoring,” he said.
The Pakistan foreign minister also remembered his mother and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination at the hands of terrorists.
“When I speak on this topic, I do so not only as the foreign minister of Pakistan whose people have suffered the most in terms of number of attacks and number of casualties. I also speak as the son whose mother was assassinated at the hands of terrorists,” Bhutto Zardari said.
“I feel the pain of this loss, empathize with victims across the world in a way most can’t. I and my country are firmly committed to being part of regional and global efforts for eradicating this menace. This requires not only a comprehensive approach but also a collective approach,” he added.
“It requires that we let this challenge unite us to fight it rather than divide us to become its victim. Our success requires us to isolate this issue from geo-political partisanship,” he said.
Bhutto Zardari also made a special mention of China for its role in bridging differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“I want to make a special mention of the commendable role China has recently played in bridging differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran– two countries that are also associated with the SCO. When great powers play the role of peacemaker, we can unlock the potential of peace while paving the way for greater cooperation, regional integration and economic opportunities for our peoples,” he said.
In his address, Jaishankar noted that current crises facing the world have exposed a credibility and trust deficit in the ability of global institutions to manage challenges in a timely and effective manner. He said reform and modernisation of the SCO will aid a more contemporary outlook which India will actively support.
“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical upheavals, the world is today facing a multitude of challenges. These events have disrupted global supply chains, leading to serious impact on the supply of energy, food and fertilizers and cascading effects on developing nations,” he said.
“These crises have also exposed a credibility and trust deficit in the ability of global institutions to manage challenges in a timely and efficient manner,” he noted.
“These challenges, however, are also an opportunity for Member States of the SCO to collaborate and address them collectively. With more than 40% of the world’s population within the SCO, our collective decisions will surely have a global impact,” Jaishankar said.
Bhutto Zardari landed in Goa on Thursday, becoming the first Pakistani foreign minister to visit India in almost 12 years.
In 2011, Pakistan’s then foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited India and held talks with her counterpart SM Krishna.
India hosted the SCO foreign ministers’ conclave in its capacity as the current chair of the grouping.
The SCO is an influential economic and security bloc and has emerged as one of the largest transregional international organisations.
The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
India and Pakistan became its permanent members in 2017.
India was made an observer at the SCO in 2005 and has generally participated in the ministerial-level meetings of the grouping, which focus mainly on security and economic cooperation in the Eurasian region.
India has shown a keen interest in deepening its security-related cooperation with the SCO and its Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure, which specifically deals with issues relating to security and defence.
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