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Saarc summit put off indefinitely

October 01, 2016


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday formally announced postponement of the 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Summit, which it was due to host on Nov 9-10 in Islamabad.

“A new set of dates for holding of the 19th Saarc Summit in Islamabad will be announced soon, through the chair of Saarc. Accordingly, we have conveyed the same to the prime minister of Nepal, the current chair of Saarc,” the Foreign Office said while announcing the postponement.

The announcement was a mere formality after India refused to attend the summit, followed by Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan, who all exited citing concerns about terrorism and external interference in an implied criticism of Pakistan.

Sri Lanka latest country to quit meeting

Sri Lanka was the last country to leave, expressing on Friday its unwillingness to attend the summit.

Repeating the terrorism mantra, Sri Lankan foreign ministry, shortly before the postponement announcement was made in Islamabad, said: “Sri Lanka regrets that the prevailing environment in the region is not conducive for holding the 19th Saarc Summit in Islamabad…. Sri Lanka condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and stresses in this regard the need to deal with the issue of terrorism in the region in a decisive manner.”

Sri Lanka’s refusal to attend the summit only left behind Nepal and the Maldives, besides Pakistan.

The refusal by five of the eight member countries to attend the event reinforced the impression about Pakistan’s growing isolation in the region.

In its postponement announcement, the FO blamed India for hurting the spirit of Saarc’s charter, which disallows member countries from bringing bilateral disputes into the regional bloc.

“The decision by India to derail the summit effectively contradicts Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own call to fight against poverty in the region,” the statement said.

“India’s decision to abstain from the summit on the basis of unfounded assumptions on the Uri incident is a futile effort to divert attention of the world from the atrocities perpetrated by India in the Indian-Occupied Jammu & Kashmir.”

The FO reaffirmed its commitment to Saarc, saying it attached great importance to regional cooperation under the umbrella of Saarc. “Therefore, Pakistan remains committed to hosting the 19th Saarc Summit at Islamabad at the earliest so that the objectives of regional cooperation under the Saarc umbrella can be pursued more vigorously,” it added.

Frances Bulathsinghala adds from Colombo: As one of the founding members of Saarc, Sri Lanka, in a statement issued through its foreign ministry, said it hoped that “steps required to ensure the region’s peace and security will be taken to create an environment that is conducive for the pursuit of regional cooperation”.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2016