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Pakistan PM Sharif counters Modi’s ‘connectivity’ bid at SCO summit, says focus on central Asia

No meeting held between the prime ministers on summit sidelines. Pakistan foreign minister Bilawal says 'difficult to speak to India since abrogation of Article 370'.

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Samarkand, Uzbekistan: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Friday countered Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal for seamless connectivity within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member countries by way of “free transit rights”.

Sharif, who was joined by his Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood at the SCO summit in Uzbekistan, said: “Let us make a strong connectivity plan, which has connectivity to the countries of Central Asia. In such a situation, everyone, including the neighbours, will get the right of full transit. There is no doubt about it. This will be a victory for all the member countries.”

PM Modi had indirectly slammed Pakistan at the SCO summit for blocking its aid to Afghanistan by denying India transit rights.

Sharif, who is attending the SCO Summit for the first time since Pakistan became a member in 2017 along with India, also said that the China-led security grouping should prioritise connectivity.

He also said “ignoring” Afghanistan will be a mistake, hinting at the multilateral grouping’s decision to not invite the Taliban leadership.

A meeting between PM Modi and PM Sharif, however, did not take place on the sidelines of the SCO, as was widely expected.

Speaking to reporters, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal said, “It is difficult to speak to India as the abrogation of Article 370 has changed everything…. Kashmir is a big issue for us,” he said.

PM Sharif also spoke of his country being a “victim of terrorism” even as he urged the SCO members to come together to fight the menace of terrorism, extremism and separatism. “The SCO should join hands together in fighting against the menace of terrorism, extremism and separatism … Pakistan itself has been victim of terrorism and the country has paid huge sacrifices in defeating terrorism,” he said.

“Thousands and thousands of Pakistanis were martyred — brothers, sisters, mothers, soldiers, doctors…. So, there cannot be a bigger manifestation of our commitment, our dedication to fight this menace collectively and wipe it from the face of the earth,” Sharif added.

Also read: Modi bats for connectivity at SCO summit, seeks ‘free transit rights’ among member states

‘Ignoring Afghanistan will be a mistake’

According to Sharif, since Pakistan is Afghanistan’s neighbour, whatever happens in Kabul impacts Islamabad too.

“Peace in Afghanistan would ensure peace in Pakistan. In other words, what is good for Afghanistan is good for Pakistan. Other countries in the region will live in peace if progress and development take place in Afghanistan,” Sharif said.

“It will be a big mistake if we ignore Afghanistan.… We hear all types of observations and opinions but it is my opinion, my country’s concerted opinion that strengthening Afghanistan in the security and counterterrorism domain should run parallel to SCO’s support to the Afghan people. Apart from humanitarian assistance the international community must support the building of a sustainable Afghan economy. Unfreezing Afghanistan’s assets remains a crucial need in this regard,” he added.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: Putin, Xi vow to work as ‘great powers’ to thwart West’s attempt to create a ‘unipolar world’


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