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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday reiterated Pakistan's willingness to host the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad at the earliest, and called for a regional approach to deal with common challenges.

He was virtually addressing the meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers on the sidelines of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, in which, he also called for a regional approach to meet the common challenges including the Covid-19, food insecurity, the locust invasion, and climate change.

"SAARC needs to renew its focus on these challenges so that it can be institutionally better prepared to counter these challenges should they arise in future," Qureshi said.

He said that Pakistan was ready to host 19th SAARC summit at the earliest, and expressed the hope that the "artificial obstacles" created in its way would be removed and the SAARC would be enabled to function as an effective instrument of regional cooperation.

He said that Pakistan, being a founding member of the SAARC, had always attached great importance to this platform, and remained committed to the principles and objectives of the SAARC Charter.

"SAARC upholds the principle of sovereign equality which forms the basis for meaningful regional cooperation. Pakistan will continue to play a proactive role towards the success of this important organization," he added.

Without naming Kashmir, the foreign minister asserted that peaceful resolution of outstanding disputes was a pre-requisite for achieving development, economic growth, poverty alleviation, and social uplift of our masses.

"In this context, we strongly emphasize the importance of faithfully following the UN Charter and implementing UN Security Council resolutions. We must strongly condemn and oppose any unilateral and illegal measures to change the status of disputed territories in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions," he further stated, in reference to the Indian illegal actions of August 5, 2019.

"Such unilateral measures run counter to our shared objective of creating a regional environment of amity and cooperation and these must be opposed resolutely," he added. He urged the Council members to take cognizance of the systematic human rights violations of the people suffering from long-running disputes and ensure their protection.

Qureshi also stated that Pakistan had always been supportive of the idea of upgrading the observer status to dialogue partners of those observer countries that were actively engaged with the SAARC countries, and that could play an important role in the development of the region, especially in the context of post-pandemic economic recovery.

Highlighting Pakistan's success against the Covid-19, he said though Pakistan might have controlled the pandemic within its boundaries, it believed that a regional approach was needed to stop the spread of the Covid-19 and save lives and livelihoods of the people of South Asia.

He said that the economic impact of the pandemic had led to worst economic crisis, since the Great Depression of 1930s, which had had a huge impact on economies, societies, and nations.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020