ISLAMABAD: The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) hemmed by internal rifts, seems to be on more difficult days ahead as India endeavours to block on ‘procedural grounds’ the appointment of a Pakistani diplomat as the next secretary general of the regional body.

In the looming scenario, The Saarc secretariat might remain a headless body for a indefinite peiord of time if the stalemate prolongs and the dispute is not resolved soon. The Pakistani turn, which is held by rotation, starts from March 1, 2017 and continues till Feb 28, 2020.

Amjad Hussain Sial is a career diplomat who has been nominated by Pakistan as the 13th secretary general of Saarc.

 

This is the first case in history of Saarc’s  that it is moving towards a standoff over the secretary general’s appointment.

Amjad Hussain Sial, a career diplomat, had been nominated by Pakistan as the 13th secretary general of Saarc to replace the outgoing top official of Kathmandu-based Saarc secretariat Arjun Bahadur Thapa, whose tenure expires on Feb 28. Mr Sial’s nomination was made at the Saarc Council of Ministers in Pokhara (Nepal) in March 2016 and was endorsed by all member states.

New Delhi, however, through a diplomatic note last month asked the secretariat to adhere to the “due working procedures” in the appointment of Mr Thapa’s successor.

Article V of the MoU, in this regard, sets protocols on the establishment of the Saarc secretariat. It deals with the details the procedure for the appointment of the Secretary General and under which the appointment has to be approved by the Saarc Council of Ministers comprising foreign ministers of the member states.

The Indian position particularly denotes that the nomination has to be ratified by the Council of Ministers meeting in Islamabad, which could not happen due to postponement of the summit after India and several of its regional allies pulled out of the meeting.

Pakistani officials, however, accused India of employing “delaying tactics, ” emphasising that concurrence had been received from all members, including India. A copy of an Indian diplomatic note dated May 30, 2016 conveying its concurrence to Mr Sial’s appointment as secretary general was also shared with Local media. New Delhi, the officials say, is now unnecessarily raising issues over the appointment.

Receipt of concurrence to Mr Sial’s appointment from all eight member states was notified by the Saarc secretariat on Sept 8, 2016.

Relations between Islamabad and New Delhi nosedived last year due to the aggravating situation in India-held Kashmir. India later accused a Pakistan-based group of attacking one of its military camps in Uri and also withdrew from the summit being hosted by Pakistan in November on the pretext of “cross-border terrorist attacks”.

After the Uri episode, India has bee trying to uphold its position in more leverage against Pakistan. The regional organisation is been hostage to the intense Pak-India rivalry despite that its charter explicitly prohibits bringing regional disputes to the forum. Satements and actions of Indian PM Modi depict that India is working towards a regional bloc minus Pakistan.

Pakistan has been an active member of Saarc and is currently contributing 24 per cent of the secretariat’s budget.