India-Pakistan spar at Commonwealth meet

Delhi hits back at Islamabad’s charge of “targeting” its religious minorities

India and Pakistan sparred at a Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministerial meeting on Wednesday, after Pakistan raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and accused India of “targeting” its religious minorities.

“For a state to hypocritically preach about religious minority groups elsewhere, while trampling upon the rights of its own indigenous minorities, was indeed most regrettable, and a blatant misuse of this august platform,” said Secretary (West) at the Ministry of External Affairs, Vikas Swarup, in response to what he called a “rant” by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the Commonwealth meet, held via videoconference, although he didn’t name Pakistan directly.

In his speech, Mr. Qureshi had also not named India directly but accused “a state” in South Asia of “targeting religious minority groups”. “It has transgressed rights and freedoms of millions and fanned hyper-nationalism to engineer illegal demographic change in a disputed territory,” he said, in an apparent reference to the government’s move to reorganise Jammu and Kashmir and dilute Article 370 in August 2019.

Disputed territory

“The only dispute left in what it alleged today as a ‘disputed territory’ is its own illegal occupation of certain parts, which sooner or later, it would have to vacate,” Mr. Swarup replied, referring to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. He also accused Pakistan of “genocide” during the liberation of Bangladesh and of hosting the largest number of terrorists proscribed by the United Nations.

The Commonwealth meeting is one of a series of forums where Indian and Pakistani officials have exchanged words in recent months, including during the 8-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Foreign Ministers meeting and the 27-nation Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), when Pakistan sought to bring bilateral disputes with India into multilateral talks. NSA Ajit Doval also walked out during a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation when Pakistan Special Advisor to PM Imran Khan (SAPM) Moeed Yusuf displayed a new map of Pakistan that incorporates more Indian territory in it.

The latest exchange between the two countries comes two days after Mr. Yusuf claimed that India had sent a “message” to Pakistan earlier this year, exploring the possibility of a “conversation”, and set what he called Pakistan’s terms for any bilateral engagement.

“We have got a message for a desire for conversation,” Mr. Moeed Yusuf said in an interview to The Wire news portal but refused to provide further details, saying Pakistan wished to talk to India about Jammu and Kashmir and terrorism.

The Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment on Mr. Yusuf’s claim but is expected to issue a full statement in response on Thursday.

No talks have been held between the countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Lahore to meet former Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif in December 2015, and the government has maintained that Pakistan must end cross-border terrorism before talks can be held.

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