India, Pakistan take veiled swipe at each other at SCO conclave

While External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar demanded tough action against cross-border terrorism, his Pakistani counterpart called for not getting caught up in "weaponising terrorism for diplomatic point-scoring"

Jaishankar, Bilawal Bhutto, SCO meet
Jaishankar with his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. Photo: Twitter

India and Pakistan on Friday took a veiled swipe at each other at a SCO meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar demanding tough action against cross-border terrorism and his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari calling for not getting caught up in “weaponising terrorism for diplomatic point-scoring”.

In his address at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at Benaulim in Goa, Jaishankar said the channel of finances for terror activities must be blocked without any distinction, even as Bhutto Zardari raised the issue of “violation of international law”, which was seen as an apparent reference to Kashmir.

No names

The SCO norms do not allow raking up bilateral issues and the two foreign ministers did not name any country and made the comments indirectly.

Also read: SCO Summit: Jaishankar talks tough on terror with Bilawal Bhutto in attendance

Chairing the conclave, Jaishankar in another veiled reference to Pakistan said taking the “eyes off terrorism” would be detrimental to the security interests of the grouping and that when the world was engaged in facing the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences, the menace of terrorism continued unabated.

“We must not allow anybody — individual or State — to hide behind non-State actors,” Jaishankar said in the presence of Bhutto Zardari and his counterparts from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

“Taking our eyes off the menace would be detrimental to our security interests. We firmly believe that there can be no justification for terrorism and it must be stopped in all its forms and manifestations, including cross-border terrorism,” he added.

Bhutto Zardari’s address

In his address, the Pakistan foreign minister talked about the need for ensuring respect for universally recognised principles and said, “unilateral and illegal measures by States in violation of international law and Security Council resolutions run counter to the SCO objectives.”

“We need to be unambiguous in keeping our commitments and charting out a new future for our people. One that is not based on conflict preservation but on conflict resolution,” he said.

Though Bhutto Zardari did not make any specific references or elaborated on the context, his remarks were largely seen as an indirect reference to India’s policy on Kashmir.

The ties between India and Pakistan came under severe strain after India announced withdrawing special powers of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories in August 2019.

Also read: India can’t engage with Pakistan due to cross-border terror: S Jaishankar

While expressing Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism, Bhutto Zardari also appeared to take a swipe at India as he called for not getting caught up in “weaponising terrorism for diplomatic point scoring”.

“We must stop conflating non-state actors with state actors,” he noted.

Collective security

The Pakistan foreign minister also pitched for collective security and said it was a joint responsibility of the member nations.

“Terrorism continues to threaten global security. Let’s not get caught up in weaponising terrorism for diplomatic point scoring,” he said.

He also spoke about his mother and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. “When I speak on this topic, I do so not only as the foreign minister of Pakistan whose people have suffered the most in terms of number of attacks and number of casualties. I also speak as the son whose mother was assassinated at the hands of terrorists,” Bhutto Zardari said.

“I feel the pain of this loss, empathize with victims across the world in a way most can’t. I and my country are firmly committed to being part of regional and global efforts for eradicating this menace. This requires not only a comprehensive approach, but also a collective approach,” he added.

“It requires that we let this challenge unite us to fight it rather than divide us to become its victim. Our success requires us to isolate this issue from geo-political partisanship,” he said.

He also made a special mention of China for its role in bridging differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“I want to make a special mention of the commendable role China has recently played in bridging differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran — two countries that are also associated with the SCO. When great powers play the role of peacemaker, we can unlock the potential of peace while paving the way for greater cooperation, regional integration and economic opportunities for our peoples,” he said.

Jaishankar points at challenges

In his address, Jaishankar noted that current crises facing the world have exposed a credibility and trust deficit in the ability of global institutions to manage challenges in a timely and effective manner. He said reform and modernisation of the SCO will aid a more contemporary outlook which India will actively support.

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical upheavals, the world is today facing a multitude of challenges. These events have disrupted global supply chains, leading to serious impact on the supply of energy, food and fertilizers and cascading effects on developing nations,” he said.

Also read: Need to root out terrorism, hold those aiding it accountable: Rajnath Singh at SCO meet

“These challenges, however, are also an opportunity for member-states of the SCO to collaborate and address them collectively. With more than 40 per cent of the world’s population within the SCO, our collective decisions will surely have a global impact,” Jaishankar said.

Bhutto Zardari landed in Goa on Thursday, becoming the first Pakistani foreign minister to visit India in almost 12 years.

India hosted the SCO foreign minister’s conclave in its capacity as the current chair of the grouping.

(With Agency inputs)