Pakistan and India on Thursday engaged in a war of words at the 7th meeting of Saarc Interior/Home Ministers that concluded here.
Federal Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan conveyed to India that it must learn to differentiate between terrorism and freedom movements, particularly those sanctified by the resolutions of United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh castigated any support for militants. “One country’s terrorist cannot be a martyr or freedom fighter for anyone,” he said.
“Those who provide support, encouragement, sanctuary, safe haven or any assistance to terrorism or terrorists must be isolated.”
Just “strong condemnation” of attacks was not enough to combat terrorism unless there was also strong resolve, Singh said.
“It also needs to be ensured that terrorism is not glorified and is not patronised by any state,” Singh said. In a strongly-worded address to the concluding session Nisar said: “We’ve seen brutal force being used against unarmed civilians, it is important to respect the fundamental human rights of the people not suppress freedom struggle in the name of fight against terrorism, as for terrorism it is a global problem, our region too has been affected by this menace. I need not to mention that Pakistan itself is the biggest sufferer of terrorism”, he maintained.
The critical remarks by Chaudhary Nisar against India also forced Home Minister Singh to dash off to India by skipping the last session of the meeting.
The sources at the Interior Ministry revealed that Singh must have been upset after Chaudhary Nisar did not attend the lunch.
When asked, the minister said he had no idea why Singh left without attending the last part of the meeting. However, he accepted that he could not attend the lunch as he had to attend an important meeting at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
“The Indian home minister sent me a message whether I’ll stay for lunch or not [and] I said no, as I was scheduled to attend a meeting at the PM House and this could be the reason he also didn’t attend the lunch,” he added.
The minister firmly told the meeting that instead of engaging in blame game, we should take time out to reflect and then sit-down together and try to work out the problem, work out the reservations which might we have towards each other.
In an obvious reference to India, he said that Pakistan is ready to engage in any peaceful dialogue with any country, saying it has never closed the door of dialogue with any country.
“It’s for those who have actually closed the door who have put conditions and sub-conditions,” he said without mentioning the obstacles in resuming the bilateral talks with India.
The terrorist activities are not restricted to India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mumbai, Dhaka, he said, adding incidents such as Pathankot which is highly condemnable but hundreds of similar terror incidents taking place almost on a daily basis in Pakistan are any less condemnable.
“No country has the right to start firing on innocent citizens under the pretext of terrorism, and mere accusation to hide their sins is not enough,” he said.
He maintained that the Saarc countries must do a reality check of what they have achieved so far and what still remains, adding it is time for us to seize the moment, to leverage our potential and overcome our choices.
“Let’s sit together and resolve our differences. We have to rise above ourselves. We have to rise above our national agendas.
We have rise above may be even years old held positions, because if we stick to our positions, we will not get anywhere,” he added.
He said that the attack on Charsadda University, the Army Public School and Gulshan Iqbal Park of Lahore took hundreds and hundreds of lives including those of children and teachers.
“We have not put the blame on our neighbours but yes there are elements which might not be operating under state control.
You have certain reservations about us and we have certain reservation about you,” he added. He maintained that the time has come to work out a solution.
“We engage in the blame game for the last six decade and got no where. So I hope that the summit which is going to follow here in Islamabad in the next two or three months in November, I hope that will serve as the forum and may provides us the opportunity to sit together informally and work out a solution to the problem that has been affecting this region,” he maintained.
He also made it clear that Pakistan faces terrorism from across its borders and blatant intervention in our internal affairs.
“How these matters can be resolved with negotiations, and discussion. Forums like SAARC are important to bring respective members, ministers, officials closer for dialogue,” he added.
To a question about intelligence sharing between the Saarc countries, he said that it was not possible when there are serious reservations with a country who describes the freedom fighters as terrorists.
Earlier in the morning, the tense Pakistan-India relation was sharply evident from the fact that Chaudhry Nisar and his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh barely shook hands at SAARC conference.
Nisar was receiving ministers at the entrance to a local hotel when the two came face to face. The leaders barely touched their hands – not even a formal handshake – before Singh moved towards the meeting hall.
The meeting was attended by the Home Ministers of Bhutan, India and Sri Lanka and Deputy Home Ministers of Afghanistan, Maldives and Home Secretary of Nepal.
Bangladesh was represented by its High Commissioner based in Islamabad. The meeting also focused on a number of areas related to terrorism, narcotics, maritime piracy and other issues.
The meeting commended the efforts of immigration authorities and interior/home secretaries from Saarc member states who met in Islamabad on 2 and 3 August 2016.
Among others, the ministers approved the recommendation of the interior/home secretaries for issuing three years validity Saarc visa exemption stickers to the GS Staff working at Saarc Secretariat.
The ministers updated the forum on respective national initiatives to implement various Saarc Conventions including the Saarc Convention on Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Saarc Conventions relating to trafficking in women and children and promotion of child welfare in South Asia.
The meeting also considered the reports of the Saarc Interior/Home Secretaries and Saarc immigration authorities that were held on 2-3 August 2016 in Islamabad.
The Sri Lankan delegation offered to host the 8th Interior/Home Ministers and Secretaries meeting. The Sri Lankan offer was welcomed by the Member states. -Business Recorder