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Rajnath leaves Saarc meeting abruptly amid bitterness

Updated August 05, 2016
ISLAMABAD: Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh leaves the venue of the Saarc meeting.—INP
ISLAMABAD: Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh leaves the venue of the Saarc meeting.—INP

ISLAMABAD: Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday left the South Asian Association for Regional Coop­eration (Saarc) Interior Minis­ters’ meeting halfway through after losing a war of words with his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

The Indian minister indirectly accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism. But when Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan responded — after relinquishing his position as the chairman of the meeting — Mr Singh found it difficult to digest.

Chaudhry Nisar called for respecting the fundamental rights of people and stressed that legitimate freedom struggles should not be suppressed in the name of the fight against terrorism. He called upon the countries from the region to differentiate between terrorism and freedom movements, sanctified by the UN Security Council, and observed that violence against freedom fighters in a disputed territory under Indian occupation was state-sponsored.

He highlighted how Pakistan itself was one of the biggest victims of terrorism. “Instead of engaging in a blame-game and taking swipes at each other, we should take time out to reflect and sit together to try and work out the problems and reservations that we might harbour towards each other,” he remarked.


Nisar takes offence at remarks against Pakistan


It was not Pakistan that closed its doors to talks, he said. “Pakistan is ready to engage in any dialogue process based on mutual respect and dignity with no strings attached. It is for those who have put conditions and sub-conditions for initiating dialogue to reconsider and realign their position.”

He said that unlike India’s claims, terrorist activities were not restricted to India, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. Scores of terrorist attacks had taken place in Pakistan and were equally condemnable, if not more so, he observed, specifically mentioning the attacks on Army Public School in Peshawar, the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda and the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park in Lahore. Such incidents, he said, could not be ignored and the perpetrators of these attacks must be apprehended and brought to justice.

The interior minister’s remarks came at a time when tensions are running high between the two nuclear-armed neighbours over fresh unrest and killings by security forces in India-held Kashmir. His remarks rendered Mr Singh speechless and he chose not to respond.

The strains in relations were evident when Chaudhry Nisar and Mr Singh came across each other for the first time. The interior minister was receiving the guests at the entrance to the conference’s venue when the Indian minister arrived; the two did not even shake hands properly.

Addressing the meeting, the Indian minister called for tough action against terrorism and countries supporting it. “Terrorists should not be glorified as ‘martyrs’. There is no good or bad terrorism. Terrorism is terrorism,” he maintained.

Both men skipped the luncheon arranged for ministers and participants of the Saarc meeting. Speaking at a press conference later, Chaudhry Nisar said he had received a message from the Indian minister asking whether he (Nisar) would be coming to the lunch. The interior minister said he excused himself as he had to attend an important meeting at Prime Minister House.

Rajnath Singh, however, did not stick around longer and left the venue without attending the final session of the conference.

Chaudhry Nisar observed that equating the movement for Kashmir’s liberation with terrorism was ‘dishonesty with history’. He felt that Saarc countries could not be hostage to a certain country’s agenda.

“If somebody refers to some specific dates and incidents, [we have] the right to come up with our own assessment of blatant foreign intervention and the influx of terrorism in Pakistan from across the border.”

Meanwhile, Saarc ministers condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, calling for collective efforts to fight this menace and emphasised that terrorists should not escape prosecution.

The meeting highlighted the need for identifying practical solutions to challenges such as cybercrime and transnational organised crime, to ensure safety and security for socioeconomic growth and provide a secure future for the youth, women and children.

The meeting called for strengthening Saarc regional conventions on suppression of terrorism and the additional protocol on mutual assistance in criminal matters and on drugs and psychotropic substances.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was the chief guest at the inaugural session of the conference, said that at the national level, remarkable gains had been made against terrorists through Operation Zarb-i-Azb and the National Action Plan.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2016