The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pak postpones Saarc summit, blames India

New Delhi, Dec. 9: Pakistan today announced the “indefinite” postponement of the Saarc summit due in Islamabad in January, indicating that relations between the South Asian nuclear neighbours are not going to improve in a hurry.

While making the announcement, Pakistan charged India with “sabotaging” the summit and adopting “dubious “ methods to derail the Saarc process by refusing to confirm its participation for the South Asian heads of governments’ meet.

“In view of the little time left to make proper preparations and in the face of continued Indian refusal to confirm its participation, the government of Pakistan is regrettably left with no alternative but to postpone the 12th Saarc Summit,” Pakistani foreign office spokesman Kamran Niaz said.

Delhi responded by squarely putting the blame on Islamabad for scuttling all “meaningful” proposals on trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. It argued that the summit did not make sense unless “these major” issues were addressed.

“Now that Pakistan has announced postponement of the summit, it is a choice they have made,” foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said.

“India has always been committed to Saarc and its processes. It was precisely because of this commitment that we had suggested that substantive progress should take place on various trade and economic issues that were being discussed,” Sarna added.

Reacting to Pakistan’s charge that India was making progress on the economic front a pre-condition for its participation, Sarna asked: “How can India be blamed for bringing in economic issues into a forum of regional cooperation which is meant for the economic betterment of the people of all the countries involved'”

“This is not a pre-condition but addressing a major issue before Saarc. If you do not have progress on this front and still want to proceed ahead with meetings without any intention of making progress, then it only leads to trivialising the forum.”

According to the Saarc charter, all seven member-nations have to confirm their participation for the summit to be held. Sources said even Bhutan did not confirm its participation.

But what is not being said by either India or Pakistan is that the summit would have provided yet another opportunity for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf to meet.

Though Islamabad was keen to take advantage of this and tell the world of its intentions to start the dialogue process with Delhi, Vajpayee was avoiding a situation where he would have to share the dais with Musharraf on his home turf. And, at a time, when Indian concerns over cross-border terrorism have not been addressed by Pakistan.

“The Indian government has been acting deviously all along regarding its participation at the 12th Saarc Summit in Pakistan. The games that the Indian government or governments played with Saarc reveal its lack of interest in the association,” Niaz said in Islamabad this afternoon.

He added: “Ever since the decision to hold the 12th Saarc Summit in January 2003 in Islamabad, India has been looking for excuses to sabotage the event.” Niaz pointed out how the summit, originally scheduled for April, was brought forward after India said that Vajpayee will not be able to attend it then as he would be busy with the national budget.

“We are conveying this position formally to the Saarc secretary general for onward communication to member states. The government of Pakistan will, in due course, announce fresh dates after consulting the member states and the Saarc secretariat,” Niaz said.

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