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India-led pullouts put Saarc meet in jeopardy

| SRIDHAR KUMARASWAMI
Published : Sep 29, 2016, 7:12 am IST
Updated : Sep 29, 2016, 7:12 am IST

India says summit has to be postponed as per Saarc charter

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (Photo: AP)
 Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (Photo: AP)

India says summit has to be postponed as per Saarc charter

In a snub to Pakistan reflecting the extent of its isolation in South Asia, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan have joined India in boycotting the forthcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Summit in Islamabad in November this year and have written to the current Saarc chair Nepal, informing them of their decision. This formality complete, the number of countries to have announced boycott of the Islamabad Saarc summit is now four out of the eight-member South Asian regional grouping.

In what was obviously a well-coordinated move, all four countries sent their individual communications to Nepal on Tuesday. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) in New Delhi said that there is no option now but to postpone the summit as per rules. And added that it’s time for Pakistan to introspect on the kind of ties it wants with Saarc countries.

Saarc, founded in 1985, has been virtually torn apart by the actions of Pakistan which has been actively exporting terrorism to both India and Afghanistan, besides fuelling terror and radicalism in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, there were conflicting media reports from Islamabad, with some claiming that Pakistan was still planning to go ahead with the summit while others insisting that Islamabad was cancelling the summit. While Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the current Saarc chair Nepal are weighing their options, the chances of the Islamabad summit being held on schedule — Novemner 9-10 — now seem negligible since the Saarc charter provides that “decisions at all levels shall be taken on the basis of unanimity”.

Sources also dismissed some reports that a suggestion had been made by Nepal for a change of venue to one outside Pakistan to save the summit.

In a communication pointing at Pakistan, Bangladesh conveyed to Nepal, “The growing interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh by one country has created an environment which is not conducive to the successful hosting of the 19th Saarc Summit in Islamabad in November 2016. Bangladesh, as the initiator of the Saarc process, remains steadfast in its commitment to regional cooperation, connectivity and contacts but believes that these can only go forward in a more congenial atmosphere. In view of the above, Bangladesh is unable to participate in the proposed Summit in Islamabad.” Bangladesh high commissioner Syed Muazzem Ali was quoted by a news agency as saying that Pakistan continues to interfere in Bangladesh’s internal affairs and has lent support to home-grown terrorists despite warnings not to do so.

Bhutan, in its communication to Nepal, said, “The concern of the Royal Government of Bhutan (is) on the recent escalation of terrorism in the region which has seriously compromised the environment for the successful holding of the 19th Saarc Summit in Islamabad in November 2016. Further, the Royal Government of Bhutan shares the concerns of some of the member-countries of SAARC on the deterioration of regional peace and security due to terrorism and joins them in conveying our inability to participate in the SAARC Summit under the current circumstances.”

Afghanistan too sent a communication that stated, “Due to the increased level of violence and fighting as a result of the imposed terrorism on Afghanistan, the President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani with his responsibilities as the Commander-in-chief will be fully engaged, and will not be able to attend the summit.”

As is well-known, Afghanistan is furious at cross-border attacks against it from Pakistani soil, while Bangladesh is upset over Pakistani support to radical elements in that country which played a role in the genocide of 1971. Bhutan is closely allied to India.

New Delhi on Wednesday maintained that the Saarc Summit in Islamabad has to be postponed, as four countries including India have pulled out of the meet. However, MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup reportedly said a formal announcement to this effect will be made by Nepal, the current chair of Saarc. The current rule is that if any one head of state or government decides not to participate in the Saarc Summit, it has to be postponed.

All eight Heads of Saarc countries must be present for the summit, Mr Swarup reportedly said, adding if any one country decides not to participate, the summit has to be postponed. “In the current case, not just India but Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan have also written to current Chair of Saarc, Nepal, that they are unable to participate in the Saarc summit, which means there is no option but to postpone it,” the MEA spokesperson was quoted as saying.

As already reported, India had on Tuesday announced its boycott of the forthcoming Saarc Summit in Islamabad, citing cross-border attacks and interference by “one country” (Pakistan) in the internal affairs of Saarc member-states that have created a scenario not conducive to successful holding of the summit, adding that regional cooperation can take place only in “an atmosphere free of terror”.

1. India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have decided to boycott the SAARC summit in Islamabad, heralding the emergence of a bloc within the eight-member SAARC that will keep the focus on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

2. Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives are weighing their options.

3. India says the Summit has to be postponed now as per the SAARC charter.

4. Conflicting reports from Islamabad on whether Pakistan will cancel the Summit or else go ahead with it.

5. SAARC was established in 1985 to foster cooperation in south Asia in the wake of powerful regional groupings elsewhere in the world.

Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi