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Suspense over Arun Jaitley’s visit to Pakistan for SAARC meet

Suspense over Arun Jaitley’s visit to Pakistan for SAARC meet

New Delhi/Islamabad: Despite reports from Pakistan that he would be accorded a “warm welcome” if he participates in the SAARC ministerial conference in Islamabad later this month, sources said on Sunday that it was not yet clear whether Finance Minister Arun Jaitley would be attending.

The sources in New Delhi said it was far from certain whether Jaitley would travel to Islamabad for the meeting to be hosted by Pakistan in Islamabad on August 25 and 26.

“Who would represent India and at what level was yet to be decided?,” the sources said.

Pakistan’s Finance Ministry said that Pakistan will play a “good host” and avoid a repetition of the tense atmosphere that prevailed during Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent visit and accord a “warm welcome” to Mr Jaitley.

The ministry officials said there are chances of “gracious handshakes” between Pakistan finance minister Ishaq Dar and his Indian counterpart if Jaitley decides to attend the ministerial conference.

The government has finalised arrangements for the upcoming SAARC meet, a Pakistan finance ministry statement said, adding that Dar chaired a meeting to review arrangements for the conference.

Pakistan would play the role of a “good host” and try to keep the overall ambience positive, the statement added.

The ministerial conference comes in the shadow of Singh’s visit to Islamabad earlier this month where barbs were exchanged between Singh and Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who only had a tense and uneasy handshake during the SAARC meeting.

The duo also traded repartees over issues of terrorism and violence in Kashmir.

“The hostilities were at peak during the Home Ministers’ Conference and Dar does not wish a repetition,” finance ministry officials were quoted as saying by the Express Tribune.

They further said that all regional countries except Bangladesh have confirmed participation of their finance ministers.

“Bangladesh has so far only confirmed the participation of its deputy finance minister. Dar will personally call his Bangladeshi counterpart and urge him to attend the conference,” they added.

However, the Ministry of Finance did not comment on whether a bilateral meeting would be held between the finance ministers of India and Pakistan.

The meetings are taking place ahead of the SAARC Summit to be held in November in Islamabad.

“All SAARC countries have a lot of potential to develop together utilising each other’s potentials and energies. The cooperation is necessary in promoting the welfare and improving the quality of life of the people of the region,” said Dar.

“The upcoming conference is an important event in this regard,” he added.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a regional intergovernmental organisation. Its member states include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.