Pakistan: SAARC summit to be cancelled

Islamabad: The SAARC summit of 2016 is predicted to have been cancelled, a senior diplomatic source in Kathmandu told The Hindu. Hours after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan followed India’s decision to stay away from the November summit to be held in Islamabad, a confirmation from Nepal also followed in.

“There is no question of holding the summit if four countries declare their unwillingness to participate. As the current SAARC Chair, Nepal has the responsibility of seeking a solution to such pre-summit disputes but under the current circumstances nothing much can be attempted. We will do the due formalities and will declare the summit of 2016 should be cancelled due to non-participation of member states,” said a Kathmandu-based diplomatic source.

“We wish that a diplomatic breakthrough could be found with a possible change of venue but no one can guarantee success of such steps as four countries have already declared their inability to attend the summit without seeking an alternate venue,” he said.

Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan sent formal official cancellations to Kathmandu on September 27 almost immediately after India expressed inability to participate in the summit due to “prevailing circumstances” and stepped up diplomatic pressure on Pakistan after the September 18 attack on the military base in Uri.

India cited cross-border terrorist attacks in the region as a reason for boycotting the summit. Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan too expressed concern about the same issue in their official notes to Kathmandu.

“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,” stated a communication from Dhaka to Nepal which was shared with the media by a source.

Bangladesh in recent months has been involved in a war of words with Pakistan over the war crimes trial, which led to the execution of a number of high profile political figures accused of crimes during the war of 1971.

“While reaffirming Bhutan’s strong commitment to the SAARC process and strengthening of regional cooperation, it notes ‘the concern of the Royal Government of Bhutan 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,” the Bhutanese note said.

The cancellation of the summit is unprecedented, as four member-states have cited “terrorism” and “imposed violence” while withdrawing from the summit.

The cancellation step taken by India was considered as India recently experienced September 18 Uri attack, which was the second such cross- border strike in nine months after the January 2 Pathankot airbase strike that India blamed on Pakistan-based elements.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh High Commissioner Syed Muazzam Ali said that Pakistan remains part of the region and has to contribute to building regional harmony. “We would still like to continue with SAARC process and hope there will be change and Pakistan comes to the path of cooperation instead of contradiction,” Mr. Ali told the media.