ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Thursday called for removing the “artificial obstacles” in the way of regular functioning of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) and reiterated Pakistan’s readiness to host the regional bloc’s summit.

“In the spirit of regionalism and as per Pakistan’s commitment to the Saarc platform the foreign minister reiterated Pakistan’s willingness for hosting the 19th Saarc summit at Islamabad,” the FO said in a statement on Mr Qureshi’s speech at the informal session of Saarc Council of Foreign Ministers, which was held virtually. The meeting is normally held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

Pakistan was to host the 19th summit of the regional bloc in November 2016, but India, supported by its regional allies Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan, forced its postponement by pulling out of the meeting on the pretext of “increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region and growing interference in internal affairs of member states by one country”.

The PTI, after coming to power in 2018, tried to capitalise on the goodwill generated by its initial contacts with Delhi, but that effort also failed to break the logjam on the hosting of summit.

Qureshi reiterates Islamabad’s willingness to host summit

The virtual Indian veto has till date prevented Pakistan from convening the event. Participation of all member states is mandatory for the convening of a Saarc summit.

Saarc’s functioning too has been affected because of its summit being not held. Most of its bodies are now in limbo.

“He expressed hope that the artificial obstacles created in its way would be removed and Saarc would be enabled to function as an effective instrument of regional cooperation,” the FO said.

In a reference to Kashmir, Mr Qureshi, in his speech, underlined that peaceful resolution of outstanding disputes was a pre-requisite for achieving development, economic growth, poverty alleviation and social uplift of people of the region.

He called for faithfully following the UN Charter and implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions.

He condemned and opposed any unilateral and illegal measures to change the status of disputed territories in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Such unilateral measures, he maintained, ran counter to the shared objective of creating a regional environment of amity and cooperation and these must be opposed resolutely.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2020