The Indian and Pakistani delegations at a regional summit in the Maldives had a heated exchange of words on the Kashmir dispute on Sunday. Pakistan brought up the matter of alleged human rights abuses in Kashmir, to which India objected, saying an internal matter should not be discussed at the forum.

The argument took place at the fourth South Asian Speakers’ Summit at Majlis, the Maldivian Parliament, in Male. The theme of the summit is the Sustainable Development Goals. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla is leading the Indian delegation at the two-day summit, which ends on Monday.

Qasim Suri, the Deputy Speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly, started by bringing up the Kashmir matter during his address. He said the hardships and injustice that Kashmiris were facing could not be ignored.

To this, Harivansh, the deputy chairman of India’s Rajya Sabha, said: “We strongly object to raising the internal issue of India here and we also reject the politicisation of this forum by raising issues which are extraneous to the theme of this summit.”

“There is a need for Pakistan to end cross-border terrorism in all kinds of state support in the interest of regional peace and stability,” Harivansh said, reading out from a prepared statement. “Also, this forum is purely meant to discuss sustainable development goals and this issue [Kashmir matter] should not be part of the proceedings.”

Pakistani Senator Quratulain Marri intervened and said sustainable development goals cannot be achieved without human rights. She said: “If you have no people to implement SDGs, who are you going to implement SDGs on? Land? [Human rights] are directly related to SDGs.”

Harivansh continued his objections and said that a country that indulges in the genocide of its own people has no moral right to raise the Kashmir matter. Marri responded that Pakistan is not the purveyor but a “victim of terror”. “How can you make such a remark?” she said. “How dare can someone say this?”

Tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated since India’s August 5 announcement revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. Pakistan, which has fought three wars with India for Kashmir since Independence, has not taken the decision well. It downgraded diplomatic relations and suspended bilateral trade with India, and has raised the dispute at the United Nations Security Council. Islamabad also said it would take it up at the UN Human Rights Council and the International Court of Justice as well.

Harivansh is a member of the Janata Dal (United), which did not support the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status despite being part of the ruling National Democratic Alliance.

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