ISLAMABAD - Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was the guest of honor Friday at a ministerial meeting of the world's leading Islamic organization. Her presence at the gathering in Abu Dhabi, in which she delivered a keynote address, prompted Pakistan's top diplomat to opt out of attending.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his Indian counterpart's attendance at the session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was based on a bilateral invitation from the United Arab Emirates that OIC officials did not know about. Swaraj spoke to the 46th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers.
"A host country invited her bilaterally. It had nothing to do with (the) OIC. Even the secretary general of the OIC was not aware of it," Qureshi said in an exclusive interview with the VOA Urdu service.
Pakistan had asked the UAE to withdraw its invitation, which was sent before military skirmishes between India and Pakistan this week put the region on edge. Upon receiving a negative response, Qureshi decided to boycott the meeting, although Pakistan sent lower level officials instead. Qureshi regretted that Pakistan was not consulted on the issue but said he understood the UAE's position.
India wants to become a member of the OIC, a group of 57 Muslim countries that calls itself the "voice of the Muslim world," even though analysts call it a "paper tiger" that is mostly irrelevant in international affairs. Even though the majority of India's population is Hindu, it has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world.
Pakistan opposed India's bid for membership.
In her speech Friday at the OIC meeting, Swaraj raised the issue of terrorism, calling it a "distortion of religion." India claims Pakistan's failure to act against terrorist groups on its soil is the reason relations between the two suffer.
One terrorist group, the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), claimed responsibility for a Feb. 14 suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed more than 40 security personnel. India's retaliatory strikes on Pakistani territory earlier this week resulted in a military stand-off that put the region on edge.
Asked about Swaraj's comments against terrorism, Qureshi said, "No one has fought as hard as Pakistan against terrorism. We've suffered 70,000 casualties ... We're all against terrorism."
Qureshi has also repeated on many international broadcast channels that Pakistan would take action against any group or individual if India provided evidence.
India has given Pakistan a dossier on the attack in Kashmir near Pulwama. Qureshi has promised to examine it, saying Pakistan is willing to have a dialogue with India on the contents. Qureshi also says the head of JeM is in Pakistan but is "unwell and cannot leave home."