Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi with his Indian counterpart Shushma Swaraj.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi with his Indian counterpart Shushma Swaraj.

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in an informal chat with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday told her that Pakistan remained ready for dialogue with India.

The two had an unscheduled and informal interaction on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) meeting of foreign ministers in Bishkek.

“I made it clear to her that we want to amicably resolve all issues,” Mr Qureshi said in a brief statement circulated by his public relations staff after the interaction.

The foreign minister reminded his Indian counterpart that Prime Minister Imran Khan in his inaugural speech had said that if India took one step (towards normalisation), Pakistan would take two. “We are ready for dialogue even today,” Mr Qureshi stressed.

Qureshi holds talks with Sushma in highest-level interaction since the post-Pulwama stand-off

The chance meeting, which many in the diplomatic circle had previously ruled out, was important in many respects. It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two foreign ministers and the highest-level interaction since the post-Pulwama stand-off which had ended through intervention of foreign intermediaries.

Moreover, the meeting took place a day before the announcement of the results of Lok Sabha elections in India following which the installation of the new government would take place. Invariably all exit polls suggest that the Bharatiya Janata Party will get a second term in office and some have indicated that it would return with bigger majority in the lower house of parliament.

In that context, the meeting could pave the way for contact between Islamabad and Delhi after the formation of new government.

Ms Swaraj, according to Mr Qureshi, complained that the conversation between the two sides at times gets bitter. She, therefore, had brought sweets so that the chat could be sweetened.

Earlier, while speaking at the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers meeting, Mr Qureshi emphasised the importance of conflict resolution in South Asia. He said Pakistan had signaled its intent for peace and better ties with India by inaugurating the construction of Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims. Condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, Mr Qureshi called for addressing its root causes.

Pak-Russia statement on outer space

Pakistan and Russia on Wednesday vowed not to be the first ones to deploy weapons in outer space and underscored the convergence of their views on the issue of weaponisation of outer space.

The commitment was made in a joint statement signed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Bishkek. Both foreign ministers were in Bishkek for attending the SCO foreign ministers meeting.

“Pakistan and Russia have reiterated their commitment to refrain from the threat or use of force in outer space activities. We encourage other responsible space-faring nations to follow this example,” the Foreign Office said in a statement issued in Islamabad on the Pak-Russia joint statement.

The five international treaties governing activities in outer space recognise space as common property of all and the need for international cooperation for shared benefits. However, gaps exist in the international space regime, especially with regards to prevention of militarisation or weaponisation of space.

Russia and China have proposed for more than a decade a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The issue is on the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament. Pakistan has been supporting this initiative, but the United States and Nato states have consistently opposed it.

Indian test of an anti-satellite weapon in March renewed Pakistan’s concern over the weaponisation of outer space. Indian declaration of being a ‘space power’ had implications for international security and regional stability in South Asia.

Russians similarly have apprehensions about US plans for a space force.

Pakistan, the statement recalled, had been consistently highlighting the risks of weaponisation of outer space, which threaten the long-term sustainability of peaceful space activities. “The use of force against space-based objects, the development and deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems and their integration into space assets have added worrying dimensions to the issues relating to outer space,” the statement maintained.

There is an urgent need to address gaps in the international legal regime governing the exploration and use of outer space with a view to ensuring that no one threatens peaceful activities and applications of space technologies for socio-economic development.

The joint statement emphasised that “the achievement of an international treaty preventing the arms race in outer space as well as banning the placement or use of weapons therein is a priority for the international community”.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2019