SAARC Summit To Be Called Off As India, Others Pull Out

29/09/2016 7:59 AM IST | Updated 29/09/2016 8:26 AM IST
Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Soldiers patrol outside the venue hosting the opening session of 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu November 26, 2014.

A summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders set for Islamabad in November may be called off, as several countries have decided not to attend amid rising tension between arch-rivals India and Pakistan, officials said on Wednesday.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and India have expressed their "inability" to attend the SAARC summit, a senior foreign ministry official in Nepal said.

India's foreign ministry on Tuesday announced its decision to skip the meeting, saying "increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region and growing interference in the internal affairs of member states by one country" had created an environment that was not conducive.

India has blamed Pakistan for a deadly assault this month on an army base in Kashmir that has heightened fears of a new conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Pakistan, which denies the accusations, called India's move to pull out of the SAARC summit "unfortunate".

A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Afghanistan, which frequently accuses Pakistan of harbouring and supporting Taliban insurgents, would not take part in the summit as long as security threats in the region remain unresolved.

A Bangladeshi foreign ministry official said Dhaka had told Nepal it would not attend because of Pakistani interference in its internal affairs.

The two countries have been in a diplomatic spat over executions by Bangladesh of people convicted of crimes during its 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

Junior foreign affairs minister Mohammad Shahriar Alam said Dhaka had told Pakistan, which is chairing the meeting, of its "inability to attend the summit due to our engagements".

Rishi Adhikari, the foreign affairs adviser to Nepal's prime minister, said the Himalayan nation's government would discuss the matter with SAARC members so that there was "no long-term effect" on the regional grouping.

"As per SAARC rules the Summit will not be held if any member-country refused to attend," Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said.

His statement came as it became evident that it was not possible to organise the summit after India and three other member-countries -- Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh -- informed the SAARC Chair, Nepal, their unwillingness to attend the summit that was scheduled for November 9-10.

Aziz said it was not the first time that India was not attending the regional summit and that it had earlier also caused the summit to be postponed four times. Aziz said although it is possible to postpone the summit but the SAARC Secretariat has not officially informed the government so far.

Under the SAARC charter, the summit is automatically postponed or cancelled even if one member country skips the event.

Founded in 1985, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) currently has Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as its members.

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