Saarc summit in limbo as India, 3 other members pull out

28 Sep 2016


In signs that Pakistan is increasingly being isolated within the region and in international fora, including the United Nations, the 19th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), scheduled to be held at Islamabad, in Pakistan on 9-10 November, will in all probability be called off after India and three other members opted to abstain from the meeting.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Right)India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan - four of the eight members of the South Asian grouping – have pulled out of the summit, citing incitement of terrorism in the region as Pakistan blatantly continued its support to terrorist groups.

Nepal, the current chair of the Saarc, said it has not decided to call off the summit as yet, but a final decision on the summit has to be taken by the current Saarc secretary-general Arjun Bahadur Thapa.

Thapa is currently in New York and will return in two days and a decision in this regard is likely to be taken on Saturday.

Technically, a Saarc summit cannot be held even if one of its members decides to boycott it, and therefore, it is not necessary for every member country to declare whether it will be attending or not, sources in the Sri Lankan foreign office said.

Officials cited the Saarc charter, which says that all decisions of Saarc, at all levels, will be taken on the basis of unanimity. Therefore, even if one member stays out, there will be no unanimity and no decision can be taken, they pointed out.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been seeking to isolate Pakistan in response to Pakistan-backed terrorist attacks in India, and he seems to have the backing of the international community as more countries see Pakistan as sponsor of terrorism.

The ministry of external affairs conveyed to Saarc chair Nepal on Tuesday that it will not attend the meet this November. It added that ''increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region and growing interference in the internal affairs of member states by one country (Pakistan) have created an environment that is not conducive to the successful holding of the 19th Saarc Summit in Islamabad in November 2016.''

Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan also expressed their unwillingness to attend the meet while one report quoted Sri Lankan authorities as saying Saarc summit cannot move forward without India.

According to the Saarc charter, the heads of state or government "shall meet once a year or more often as and when considered necessary by the member states". But since its establishment, Saarc  has not kept to the timetable.

There was no summit in 1989, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2000,2001, 2003, 2006, 2009,2014, 2015 and there is going to be none in 2016. However, the Saarc charter provides for the postponement of a summit at a member's request.

Meanwhile, India has asserted that it will review the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) that governs water sharing between India and Pakistan from six rivers of the Indus basin. Meanwhile, another meeting has been called on Thursday to discuss revoking Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan. Pakistan now stands cornered in its own neighbourhood except for only China, its strategic ally.

The US State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner also stated on Tuesday that the US continues to ''put pressure on Pakistan to respond to those groups who are ''seeking safe haven on Pakistan's borders', that - who are intent on carrying out attacks elsewhere in the region''.

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