Arun Jaitley Likely To Skip SAARC Meeting In Pakistan


New Delhi: Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley is unlikely to attend a meeting of Saarc ministers in Pakistan next week, reflecting the sharp dip in ties between the two countries.

Jaitley is not expected to join the meeting of finance ministers of the regional grouping in Islamabad during August 25-26, sources close to the minister told Hindustan Times.

A final decision will be made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and this will be followed by a formal announcement, the sources said. Reports suggested economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das would represent India at the Saarc meet.

Soon after news broke that Jaitley would skip the meet in Islamabad, defence minister Manohar Parrikar was quoted as saying that “going to Pakistan is the same as going to hell”.

Addressing a party meet in Rewari, Parrikar said Indian troops had “sent back” five terrorists on Monday. He added: “Pakistan mein jaana aur nark mein jaana eik hi hai.” He also said Pakistan was facing the consequences of its policy of encouraging terrorism.

Earlier this month, home minister Rajnath Singh’s experiences while attending a meeting of Saarc interior ministers in Islamabad on August 4 added to bilateral tensions.

Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan traded barbs over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir while addressing the meet. The two ministers barely shook hands and stayed away from a lunch hosted for the Saarc ministers. While addressing the Saarc meet, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif angered India by referring to “the freedom movement” in Jammu and Kashmir.

The past few days have witnessed a marked escalation in tensions between the two neighbours after Modi said Pakistan would have to answer for alleged rights abuses in Balochisan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Modi also became the first Indian premier to raise Balochistan in an Independence Day speech on Monday.

Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz responded by saying Modi was trying to divert the world’s attention from the situation in Kashmir. He also said Modi’s remarks proved Pakistan’s allegation that India was “fomenting terrorism in Balochistan”.

The bilateral tensions have coincided with the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir that erupted after security forces killed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, whom Pakistan has described as a “Kashmiri leader”. Pakistan’s offer of talks on the Kashmir issue has been rejected by India, which said any dialogue should focus on terrorism.