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Sri Lanka PM doubts Saarc future, talks of ‘other options’

| SRIDHAR KUMARASWAMI
Published : Oct 6, 2016, 6:40 am IST
Updated : Oct 6, 2016, 6:40 am IST

Sri Lanka has issued a veiled warning on the future of Saarc, saying it has been impacted by the current India-Pakistan tension and that “nothing has moved forward in the past few years”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe. (Photo: PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe. (Photo: PTI)

Sri Lanka has issued a veiled warning on the future of Saarc, saying it has been impacted by the current India-Pakistan tension and that “nothing has moved forward in the past few years”. Visiting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe said on Wednesday that “Saarc may become non-functional” due to this tension and that he had detailed discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saarc’s future. “Sri Lanka has options”, he said, adding that if things within Saarc didn’t improve, “each country will have to look at its options”. The Sri Lankan PM also commended India for its “strategic restraint” in the wake of the Uri terror attack and surgical strikes on terrorists, saying “PM Modi has handled it well so far”. The Sri Lankan PM also said “cross-border terrorism is on the table” before the Saarc nations but that war was not an option between India and Pakistan.

“Cross-border terrorism is on the table. Saarc has to look at it and discuss what has happened (cancellation of the Saarc summit). How we are going to handle it Saarc has to decide on two issues — cross-border terrorism and areas in which we can work together... If we don’t do it, there is no future for Saarc,” the Sri Lankan PM said.

“It (India-Pak friction) has already impacted (Saarc),” Mr Wickremasinghe said, adding things seemed “finished” and that “nothing has moved in the last few years”. He further said: “We might as well look at this and decide once and for all if it is not worth going along,” he said in an anguished tone. “Your Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) and I discussed it extensively today. We all felt ... let’s see how we handle it,” Mr Wickremasinghe said.

Asked what the options were before Sri Lanka, he said Sri Lankans were internally discussing it. But the Sri Lankan PM also said “there should be no cross-border terrorism in India”. Lavishing praise on the Indian PM, he added: “Everyone compliments PM Modi for his approach.” Mr Wickremasinghe said there were no differences between his country and India on this score.

Without naming Pakistan, Mr Wickremasinghe said while terrorism was also affecting the internal situation in both Afghanistan and Bangladesh (that had communicated their boycott of the Islamabad Saarc summit along with India), this was not affecting the internal situation in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka also announced its pullout from the Islamabad Saarc summit after India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan decided to boycott it, but before Pakistan said that the summit was being postponed. Many of the other Saarc nations believe the eight-member South Asian regional grouping is a victim of India-Pak hostility and is unable to fulfil its objectives. For instance, at the previous Saarc summit in Kathmandu in 2014, Pakistan had refused to endorse several regional connectivity agreements.

Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi