With Finance Minister Arun Jaitley opting out of the Saarc Finance Ministers' meet, it is Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das who has taken his place at the two-day conference, a top government official said on Thursday. “Yes, that is correct. Instead of Mr Jaitley, Mr Shaktikanta Das is attending the two-day Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) meet of Finance Ministers at Islamabad,” a senior Finance Ministry official told Media. The two-day FMs meet is being held at Islamabad from Thursday.
The possibility of Jaitley attending the meet was clouded with India-Pakistan relations touching a new low after Home Minister Rajnath Singh was given a cold shoulder by Pakistan authorities when he visited Pakistan earlier this month to attend the Saarc Home/Interior Ministers' conference. “Ultimately, it is the government's decision whether the Finance Minister goes to Islamabad or not. I think this is one way to snub Pakistan,” Bharatiya Janata Party National Secretary Sidharth Nath Singh had told Media earlier.
Apart from Jaitley, Bangladesh Finance Minister Abdul Maal Abdul Muhith is also missing from the Saarc meet, Pakistan's Daily Times reported. While Das is leading the Indian delegation, M.A. Mannan, State Minister for Finance is representing Bangladesh, it reported.
India-Pakistan ties touched a low after a raging controversy emerged after Rajnath Singh's two-day visit to Pakistan earlier this month. India had strongly objected to Pakistan“s “restrictive approach” in denying visas to Indian journalists to cover the Saarc Home/Interior Ministers' conference.
Media persons who accompanied the Home Minister were not allowed in the (meeting) room and a number of those who had applied for visas (to cover the event) did not get them, India's External Affairs Ministry had said. “Naturally this restrictive approach by Pakistan even for a multilateral event is not helpful in promoting close ties between Saarc countries,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup had said.
Indian journalists accompanying the Home Minister to Islamabad were denied entry inside the venue hall where Rajnath Singh lashed out at Pakistan over its alleged support to terrorism. Reports also said that the Pakistan government censored Rajnath Singh's speech and didn't allow it to be covered live.