ISLAMABAD: The foreign ministers of Pakistan and India are unlikely to have a formal bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) ministerial meeting later this month, although the two could have a formal handshake.
“The two foreign ministers would be present in the meeting and in all likelihood would interact amongst themselves and with other leaders. No formal meeting is, however, envisaged,” Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal said at the weekly media briefing on Thursday.
The SCO ministerial meeting is being held in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on May 21-22, a couple of days before the announcement of the results of elections in India.
Aasia Bibi has left country, confirms spokesman
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi would be representing Pakistan at the meeting, whereas External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj would be leading the Indian delegation. The foreign ministers of the two countries have not met for over three years now and a meeting planned in New York last September was cancelled.
The relations between India and Pakistan have been very tense lately. The two have been engaged in a military stand-off after a suicide attack in Pulwama and all-out hostilities were prevented only through some intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
The speculation about a possible meeting of the foreign ministers was set off by Wednesday’s meeting between Foreign Secretary Sohail Mehmood and Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria.
When asked about the meeting between HC Bisaria and FS Mehmood, Dr Faisal said: “Such meetings occur regularly to discuss various evolving issues. I cannot disclose the detailed agenda.”
Responding to a question about India’s massive defence spending that was around $66.5 billion last year, the spokesman said India was trying to push the region into an arms race.
“Let me say that an increase in the defence budget is not the sole determinant of a nation’s strength. You have seen the results of the misadventure by India on 27th February 2019 and the befitting reply given by our military forces,” he added.
Pakistan had lodged a protest with Afghanistan over May 1 terrorist attack on a team engaged in erection of a fence along the Pak-Afghan border in Alwara region of North Waziristan in which three of soldiers were martyred.
“Pakistan did lodge a strong protest with the Afghan government on the incident. The attack was carried out by almost 70 terrorists based in Gayan and Bermal districts of Paktika, Afghanistan, on the Pakistani military troops operating in North Waziristan since April 27,” the spokesman said.
The attack was repulsed by the army. The military, however, feels that the terrorists were able to escape due to lack of “appropriate action from the Afghan side”.
Dr Faisal said: “Pakistan has strongly condemned such attacks and conveyed its strong reservations to the Afghan side regarding continued presence of these nefarious elements inside Afghanistan. We have urged the Afghan authorities to take action against these terrorists.”
The Foreign Office spokesman formally confirmed that Aasia Bibi, who had faced blasphemy allegations and had been acquitted by the Supreme Court, had left the country.
“Aasia Bibi has left the country. She is a free citizen and can go wherever she wants,” he said.
The government had so far been maintaining silence over the issue due to the controversy surrounding Bibi.
Asked about the escalating tensions in the Middle East — where the US has deployed an aircraft carrier, bombers and a strike force to intensify pressure on Iran — the spokesman said: “We are closely monitoring the situation and will keep you informed.”
Reiterating Pakistan’s position, he said the country supported resolution of all issues through dialogue.
Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2019