‘Could’ve cooperated on Covid-19’: FM says Kashmir issue impeding regional development

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Thursday that Pakistan could have cooperated within the region on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic but there was a “bottleneck” on regional trade and development because of the Kashmir issue.

The foreign minister was addressing a photography and culture exhibition in Islamabad, attended by foreign diplomats and dignitaries, to express solidarity with the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK).

“We could have cooperated in the region to [better] combat Covid-19 but we didn’t […] collectively [and] regionally we could’ve done a better job,” said Qureshi.

He said because of the Kashmir dispute there was no regional trade and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) was not functioning while “we’ve seen regional trade grow everywhere [such as the] European Union (EU) and Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]”.

“What’s the bottleneck? We have to understand that and we need the international community to understand what the present regime in India has done is unsustainable,” the foreign minister said.

He questioned where were the investments promised by India in the occupied region, adding that the flourishing tourism in IoK had been “destroyed” because of “devastating” measures taken on August 5, 2019 — referring to India’s revocation of Article 370.

“We want to live in peace with India and we want good neighbourly relations with India but south Asia has suffered because of this [Kashmir] dispute,” Qureshi said, adding that limited resources were not being “optimally used” on development projects because of “tension on both sides”.

“The time has come to reflect, how do we move on. What is going on is unsustainable.”

Qureshi said choosing not to talk about the Kashmir issue and ignoring it would not “change reality” and the issue should be resolved through “dialogue and peaceful means”.

“Who will create that enabling environment that is required to reengage […] so please write to your capitals [and] inform them about what the real situation is [in IoK],” he told the audience, which included foreign dignitaries and diplomats.

Qureshi also urged the audience to visit and assess both Azad Kashmir and the Indian occupied territory and to pressure the Indian government into allowing a diplomatic core to make an “independent assessment” on IoK after meeting people there.

The foreign minister said he expected the administration of US President Joe Biden to “stop ignoring the ground realities over there” based on his consistent stance on human rights.

He also said he expected the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the EU to play their roles on the issue and thanked members of the European and British parliaments for “contributing and highlighting the misery and brutality that is taking place”.

The United States State Department clarified on Wednesday that there had been no change in America’s Kashmir policy and Washington still considered both Jammu and Kashmir as a territory disputed between India and Pakistan. The clarification on the Kashmir issue showed that the Biden administration was not insensitive to Pakistan’s concerns.