Saarc summit still in limbo amid India’s obduracy

Updated November 28, 2018


FO spokesman says invitation was extended to Modi in letter written by PM Khan after assuming office. — Photos courtesy of wires
FO spokesman says invitation was extended to Modi in letter written by PM Khan after assuming office. — Photos courtesy of wires

ISLAMABAD: The South Asian Associa­tion for Regional Cooperation’s (Saarc) summit remains in limbo for the third year running due to India’s refusal to attend a meeting in Pakistan.

Islamabad was to host the 19th summit of the regional bloc in November 2016, but India on that occasion forced its cancellation by first pulling out of the meeting on the pretext of “increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region and growing interference in internal affairs of member states by one country”, because of which it claimed the environment was “not conducive to the successful holding of the 19th Saarc summit in Islamabad”.

It was later joined by its regional allies Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan, all of whom also pulled out citing concerns about terrorism and external interference in an implied criticism of Pakistan.

Pakistan has not been able to convene the event for the third year now because of a virtual Indian veto. Participation of all member states is mandatory for the convening of a Saarc summit.

FO spokesman says invitation was extended to Modi in letter written by PM Imran after assuming office

The new government in Islamabad, while attempting to capitalise on the goodwill generated from initial contacts between the new government and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, made a fresh attempt at convening the summit, but the attempt was again stonewalled by India.

Foreign Office Spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal, while speaking at a seminar on Tuesday, spoke about India’s obstinacy on the issue of the Saarc summit in Islamabad. Referring to a letter written by Prime Minister Imran Khan to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi after assuming office, the spokesman said, the invitation for attending the summit in Islamabad was renewed.

“The letter noted that Saarc summit may now be held and welcomed Mr Modi to visit Islamabad so that a dialogue can be started and we can take it forward,” he said.

Saarc summits, as per the charter of the body, are to be held once a year or more frequently as required by the situation. The summits are held on a rotational basis inn alphabetical order of the names of member states. However, summits could be held only on 18 occasions in Saarc’s 33 years of existence. Most of the postponements have taken place in the last 17 years.

Although there have been different reasons for the delays and rescheduling, including bilateral disputes and internal problems of member states, India has been the most common cause in these postponements, if not all. At least on two occasions the hold-ups were because of Pakistan-India disputes.

India refused to attend the 11th summit on the pretext of a coup in Pakistan and the 12th summit because of the prime minister’s schedule. India on those occasions used the participation card to pressure the hosts.

Longest delay

The longest delay was on the occasion of the 11th summit hosted by Kathmandu. On that occasion the summit scheduled for November 1999 was held in January 2002 after delay of nearly two years and two months. On five occasions in the past the venue had to be changed for hosting of the conference — 3rd, 4th, 5th, 15th and 16th summits.

This time India is insisting that it would not agree to a meeting in Islamabad as long as it does not see any visible progress on its concerns about terrorism.

Pakistan has time and again denied the allegations and has on several occasions offered dialogue to address the outstanding issues.

Dr Faisal, while again recalling PM Khan’s letter, said: “We are ready to discuss and resolve all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, people-to-people contacts, religious tourism. We are ready to discuss terrorism.”

PM Khan is performing the groundbreaking of Kartarpur corridor on Wednesday, which is being dubbed as ‘corridor of peace’.

An Indian delegation, including some ministers, will attend the ceremony in Kartarpur.

Dr Faisal said that the progress towards opening of the Kartarpur corridor was a result of Pakistan’s relentless perseverance in its efforts for normalising ties with India despite the latter’s inflexibility.

He said Pakistan was very clear in its policy of engaging with India, whereas New Delhi was suffering from confusion as shown by the cancelled foreign ministers meeting in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The spokesman hoped that the corridor would open other avenues of cooperation between the two countries.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2018