Shaktikanta Das to lead India delegation at Saarc finance ministers’ conference

Economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das will lead the Indian delegation to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) finance ministers’ conference starting Thursday in Pakistan after finance minister Arun Jaitley decided to skip the meeting amid growing tension between the two neighbours.

“The decision now has been formally taken,” a government official said on condition of anonymity. Earlier, the government had contemplated sending junior finance minister Arjun Ram Meghwal. The conference is scheduled to be held on 25-26 August in Islamabad.

Saarc is a regional inter-governmental organization whose members are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Finance ministers at the conference are expected to deliberate on the Saarc Development Fund and do the groundwork for regional cooperation on finance and investment, to be endorsed by heads of Saarc states at the November summit.

A South Asian home ministers’ meeting in Islamabad earlier this month became controversial after Union home minister Rajnath Singh faced protests over alleged Indian Army excesses in Kashmir. Singh skipped the concluding session and returned to India, miffed over the alleged ill-treatment. Strained ties between the two South Asian neighbours deteriorated after Pakistan described slain Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani as a freedom fighter and accused India of “state terrorism” in Kashmir, inviting a strong reaction from New Delhi.

India signalled a major shift in foreign policy with Modi making an oblique reference to the human rights situation in Pakistan’s Balochistan province besides Gilgit and other areas of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in his Independence Day speech. (LiveMint.com)