ISLAMABAD – The 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit scheduled for November 9 and 10, 2016 in Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad may be called off after several participant countries decided to refrain from attending the meet.

The Ministry of External Affairs of India conveyed to SAARC Chair Nepal about India’s inability to attend the Islamabad summit citing increased cross-border terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.

Tensions between India and Pakistan grew after militants stormed an Indian Army base in Uri on September 18, killing 18 soldiers. Besides India, four other SAARC members – Bangladesh, Bhutan Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have pulled out of the summit.

In a letter to SAARC chair Nepal, Bangladesh said “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. In view of the above, Bangladesh is unable to participate in the proposed summit in Islamabad.”

Similarly, Bhutan expressed its concern in a letter to Nepal stating the recent escalation of terrorism in the region, which, it says, seriously compromises the environment for the successful holding of the November SAARC Summit in Islamabad.

Afghanistan said in a statement that “due to increased level of violence and fighting as a result of imposed terrorism on Afghanistan, H.E. the President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani with his responsibilities as the Commander in Chief will be fully engaged, and will not be able to attend the Summit”. Later, Sri Lanka also expressed its unwillingness to attend the Summit.
Pakistan, on the other hand rejects the accusations, and calls India’s move to pull out of the SAARC summit “unfortunate”.

Founded in 1985, SAARC currently has Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as its members. The heads of state/government of the eight countries take part in the meet. If any member is absent, the regional gathering can’t take place.

Nepal’s Foreign Affairs advisor Rishi Raj Adhikari said that as SAARC chair, Nepal would take a position on the matter after due consultation with the member-states he added that the summit could still be held on schedule if the ‘matters between the concerned member-states are resolved’.

– Bandana Singh, Correspondent (Asia: South)