ISLAMABAD - Pakistan is set to highlight India’s campaign against the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation among the member states to expose New Delhi’s negativity, officials said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation on Wednesday that Pakistan aimed to convince the Saarc-member states that India wanted to divide the region by targeting the regional inter-governmental organisation.

The officials said Pakistani diplomats were in contact with the Saarc-member countries to seek their support for the summit in Islamabad.

The Saarc Summit is held in different South Asian nations, every 12-18 months.

The first Saarc Summit was held in Bangladesh, in 1985.

The Saarc Summit, in 2016, was to be held in Pakistan but India boycotted following the Uri attack that killed 19 Indian soldiers in held Kashmir.

The Saarc Summit 2016 was finally cancelled as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Maldives followed India’s decision to boycott the summit.

Pakistan is now seeking support from smaller south Asian states to host the regional Saarc Summit in Islamabad this year.

Sri Lanka and Nepal have already shown support.

India has hinted it will not participate in the Saarc summit in Pakistan due to the tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not in favour of attending the Saarc summit in Islamabad as Pakistan was allegedly not showing sincerity to stop the “cross-border terrorism”.

Reports said Senate Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwalla was interacting with Mohammad Anas, Acting High Commissioner of Sri Lanka, on Pakistan’s plan to host the Saarc summit this year.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had also expressed the same wish last year during his visit to Nepal.

Pakistan alleges that India was impeding the Saarc process as Islamabad remained committed to the regional body.

Tensions have been ever growing between Pakistan and India after killing of a Kashmiri freedom fighter, Burhan Wani, by the Indian forces in July 2016, and an attack on an Indian military camp in held Kashmir in September that killed 19 soldiers.

Pakistan has been showing restrain along the Line of Control and speaking about the dialogue process.

A senior official at the foreign ministry said Pakistan would contest India’s bid to dissolve the Saarc.

“In its animosity towards us [Pakistan], India is trying to destroy [the] Saarc. They are working to divide the region instead of uniting it,” he said.

Another official said the ambassadors in the Saarc-member countries had also been asked to discuss “India’s negativity” with the concerned diplomats.

“A pro-Saarc campaign has been launched [by Pakistan] against India’s anti-Saarc bid,” he added.

Former ambassador Fauzia Nasreen said Pakistan wanted to make the Saarc an important vehicle for regional cooperation based on principle of sovereign equality.

“[The] Saarc promotes development of economic and regional integration. If the members help each other economically, poverty and illiteracy can be reduced,” she said.

International relations expert Dr Farooq Hasnat said the Saarc was meant to unite the regional countries but India was playing foul.

He said India had hegemonic designs and was putting pressure on smaller countries to isolate Pakistan.

The next Saarc summit, Dr Hasnat said, was expected to be held in Pakistan, and Nepal could play its role to convince India to participate.

He said the scope of regional cooperation in the Saarc had proliferated, and it had started to engage political, economic, social, cultural and other aspects in its dialogue.





Shafqat Ali