| US secretary of state Colin Powell with Yashwant Sinha in Phnom Penh on the sidelines of the Asean forum. (Reuters)
New Delhi, June 18: India today effectively blocked Pakistan’s entry into the high-profile Asean Regional Forum.
Though foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, who played a crucial role in blocking Pakistan’s entry, stressed that Delhi was “committed” to restoring lasting peace with Islamabad, the move could further strain relations between the neighbours and impede the peace process India has initiated.
While India has been a member of the security forum since 1996, Pakistan is only a sectoral dialogue partner and has been trying for years to get into the body.
As in the past, Malaysia took the initiative of pushing Pakistan’s case. But unlike other years, none of the foreign ministers — especially those close to India — raised any objection to Pakistan’s entry. It was more surprising as the forum had announced a moratorium a few years ago on taking in new members.
Today, when the issue came up for discussion and approval of the members, Sinha raised serious objections to Pakistan’s entry. His “forthright argument”, based on precedence and the forum’s declared policy not to take in more members till it had consolidated, left Islamabad’s backers with no option but to go along with his objections.
According to the guidelines, a country keen to join the forum has to make an application to the chairman. It is then put forward at the meeting of senior officials of the foreign secretary level. After their approval, it is placed before the foreign ministers.
In Pakistan’s case, the application was never put before the senior officials. Moreover, East Timor, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are other countries waiting to get into the forum. Sinha also highlighted the haste with which Pakistan’s case was taken up while the other applicants were ignored.
“It is too important a matter to be discussed with other matters of (the) ARF,” Sinha said, adding that there were “existing procedures” and “guiding principles” on taking in new members. An important criterion is a detailed assessment on whether the country has left a “geographical footprint” on regional security.