Hours after Sri Lanka became the fifth country in the eight-member grouping to pull out of the SAARC Summit, Pakistan on Friday night postponed the event, which was to be held in Islamabad on November 9-10. Pakistan said the new dates will be announced soon.
India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan pulled out of the summit earlier this week, indirectly blaming Pakistan for creating an environment which is not conducive.
“Pakistan deplores India’s decision to impede the SAARC process by not attending the 19th SAARC Summit at Islamabad on November 9-10, 2016,” the Pakistan foreign ministry said on Friday.
Islamabad said the spirit of the SAARC Charter is “violated” when a member state casts the shadow of its bilateral problems on the multilateral forum for regional cooperation. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was looking forward to welcoming the SAARC leaders. All preparations had been made for a “successful” summit, said the statement.
It said India’s decision to “derail the summit” effectively “contradicts” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to fight poverty in the region. “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” in Kashmir, said Pakistan.
“Pakistan attaches 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 said.
The Pakistan foreign ministry said the new dates for the summit will be announced soon through Nepal, which is currently the SAARC Chair. “Accordingly, we have conveyed the same to the Prime Minister of Nepal,” it said.
Responding to the development, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson, Vikas Swarup, said: “We note Pakistan’s decision to postpone the SAARC Summit. They have been compelled to recognise the regional sentiment against terrorism.”
Earlier in the day, Sri Lanka announced its decision to pull out of the summit. Colombo’s announcement came days before Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe is scheduled to visit India (October 4-6). He is likely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and key political leaders during his visit.
“Sri Lanka regrets that the prevailing environment in the region is not conducive for holding the 19th SAARC Summit in Islamabad,” the Sri Lankan foreign ministry said in a statement.
The general provisions of the SAARC Charter require that decisions at all levels shall be taken on the basis of unanimity, and this applies to the convening of meetings of heads of state or government of SAARC member states as well, Lanka said.
The statement made no reference to the current tension between India and Pakistan, but it “condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations” — an oblique reference to the Uri attack and its aftermath. It stressed the need to deal with the issue of terrorism in the region in a decisive manner.
“Peace and security are essential elements for the success of meaningful regional cooperation for the benefit of the people of South Asia. As a founding member of SAARC, committed to regional cooperation, Sri Lanka hopes that the steps required to ensuring our region’s peace and security will be taken to create an environment that is conducive for the pursuit of regional cooperation,” the statement added.