Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterated Pakistan’s willingness to host the 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Islamabad ‘as soon as possible’ and expressed the hope that ‘artificial barriers’ created in its path would be removed.
Addressing a virtual informal meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers on the sidelines of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, Shah Mehmood Qureshi sought to adopt a regional approach through the SAARC platform to address the various challenges facing the region.
Islamabad was scheduled to host the 19th Regional Bloc Summit in November 2016, but India withdrew from the summit. India’s regional allies Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan have since joined it.
Due to the virtual Indian veto, Pakistan has not been able to hold this event for the fourth year.
It should be noted that the participation of all member countries is essential for holding the SAARC Summit.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the meeting that in the spirit of regionalism and Pakistan’s commitment to the SAARC platform, he reiterated Pakistan’s willingness to host the 19th SAARC Summit in Islamabad as soon as possible.
The artificial barriers that stand in its way will be removed and SAARC will be able to act as an effective tool for regional cooperation, he added.
In his remarks, the Foreign Minister said that SAARC emphasizes the principle of sovereignty and equality which is the basis of meaningful regional cooperation.
“Pakistan will continue to play a dynamic role in the success of this important organization,” he said.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi pointed out that the economic impact of the Coronavirus epidemic has created ‘the worst economic crisis since the 1930s’ which has had a devastating effect on economies and nations.
He said that Pakistan has been able to “control and contain the virus” by following the ‘smart’ lockdown strategy as well as testing, detection and quarantine.
“Our efforts to strike a balance between life and livelihood have helped reduce the impact of the epidemic. The government has provided assistance to the weaker sections of society through the Prime Minister’s 8 billion aid package,” he said.
“Although Pakistan has managed to control the Pandemic within its borders, we believe that a regional approach is needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save the lives of the people of South Asia,” Qureshi said.
He said Pakistan had hosted a video conference of SAARC health ministers in April for a regional response to the fight against the epidemic and provided an opportunity for member countries to learn from each other’s achievements and experiences.
He said Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call to world leaders for a “global debt relief initiative” would help meet the immediate needs of developing countries to meet the challenge.
The Minister said that the common challenges of South Asia, including epidemic disease, food insecurity, locust infestation and climate change, need a regional approach for which SAARC needs to focus on these challenges in order to meet their future. Institutions need to be better prepared to meet such challenges.
‘Conflict resolution a prerequisite for development’
Talking about the overall performance of SAARC over the last three decades, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the impact of the bloc on the lives of the people “did not live up to our collective expectations despite the horizontal development of the organization and its institutions”.
“Efforts need to be result-oriented and co-operative with as many countries and international and regional organizations as possible,” he said.
He said that in this regard Pakistan supports the idea of extending the status of observer countries to dialogue partners who are active with SAARC countries and can play a significant role in regional development.
“In this context, we emphasize the importance of adhering to the Charter of the United Nations and implementing UN Security Council resolutions,” he said.
He called on SAARC to “strongly condemn and oppose any unilateral and illegal move to change the status of the disputed territories in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”