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Pakistan risks relations in South Asia if it keeps blocking SAARC initiatives: Jaishankar

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar  

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Foreign Secretary warns Islamabad against blocking regional initiatives ahead of ‘Heart of Asia’ meet in Amritsar.

South Asian nations will begin to look at other “alternatives” if Pakistan continues to “block” SAARC initiatives, Foreign Secretary S.Jaishankar warned here on Monday.

In comments just ahead of a regional conference in India that Pakistan will attend next week, Mr. Jaishankar said Pakistan risks relations with other SAARC countries if it doesn’t follow “basic standards of regional cooperation.”

“If you (Pakistan) say that you will be a member of a regional grouping but won’t allow regional trade, won’t allow regional connectivity, won’t allow regional motor ways or railways, than what is it about? You cannot be a member of a region and block every possible regional initiative and still say ‘I am good member’. That sort of approach has to change,” Mr. Jaishankar said, referring to Pakistan’s decision to reject MFN status for India as well as India’s proposal for a SAARC motor vehicle agreement.

Mr. Jaishankar made no comment about India’s decision to boycott the SAARC summit in Islamabad this year after the Uri attack, a decision that was followed by Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh. However, he said SAARC countries could opt for “sub-regional initiatives and will look at other initiatives like Bimstec (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation)” that India hosted in October instead of SAARC, and that could be “heavily damaging” to the region.

Mr. Jaishankar’s comments are significant as they come after Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz announced in Islamabad that he will visit India to attend the ‘Heart of Asia’ regional conference of 14 nations, due to be held in Amritsar on December 3 and 4. No bilateral meeting has been planned as yet, say officials, even as tensions at the LoC have increased with a sharp increase in artillery fire causing casualties on both sides.

The foreign secretary was speaking at a seminar organised by the government think-tank Institute for Defence and Strategic Analysis on ‘India and the Great Powers: Continuity and Change’, and stressed that the “regional flux” facing India would be fuelled by the changes being seen in the global arena.

Last week, Dr. Jaishankar had visited Washington to meet with U.S. Administration officials and Congressmen in a visit seen as an early reach out to the team of President-elect Trump. “What can be safely predicted is that the Trump administration has a different priority for engaging the world,” he said, adding that the Trump election would have a bearing on the growth of China’s power in the maritime region, and the uncertainty over regional trade partnerships like the TPP.

“We have very strong converging interests with Western countries. You can see it in our shared democratic values. And you see it in the joint vision statement on the Asia Pacific India signed with the U.S. last year,” the foreign secretary said, indicating that India’s interests have moved westward, and added, “The old order needs to be revisited.”

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 6:03:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Pakistan-risks-relations-in-South-Asia-if-it-keeps-blocking-SAARC-initiatives-Jaishankar/article16670728.ece

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