It is for the second time that 13th summit has been delayed

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi,

Feb 14 - 20, 2005



The postponement of 13th SAARC summit which was to be held on Feb 6-7, 2005 in Dhaka, has disappointed the member countries. Being the Chairman of the SAARC, Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had to announce the postponement after consultation with Bangladesh. In fact, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had declined to participate because of political turnout in Nepal and deteriorating security situation in the host country, Bangladesh.

Both Bangladesh and Nepal have expressed their disappointment and anger labeling the Indian move as unwarranted and unacceptable. "We are shocked and dismayed at the unwarranted and unexpected decision of the Government of India not to attend the SAARC summit after all preparations had been completed," said the Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary H. Shamsher Choudhry in a press statement adding that "the reasons given for this decision as far as it relates to security situation in Dhaka is unacceptable. Such a announcement goes counter to the spirit of the SAARC Charter," he added.

The Press Trusts of India, quoting official sources, has reported that the situation in neighboring Nepal where King Gyanendra has sacked his Prime Minister and his cabinet recently was the reason spotted by the Indian Prime Minister to stay away. However, the Nepalese authorities have described this argument as rubbish.

It is for the second time that 13th summit has been delayed, as earlier the summit scheduled for January 2005 had to be postponed owing to tsunami tragedy on December 26, 2004.

Indian refusal to attend has come as a shock to the member countries including Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives besides Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz who was to represent Pakistan in the summit talked to Prime Minister of Bangladesh Begum Khalida Zia on telephone and expressed his disappointment over Indian decision.

Shaukat said: "Pakistan views SAARC as an important forum for enhancement of regional cooperation and to promote links among South Asian nations. He hoped that new dates for the 13th Summit will be worked out soon and the process of regional cooperation would continue undeterred."

Sharing disappointment and offering Islamabad's support for Nepal's sovereignty, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz also telephoned Nepali King and raised two points. First that Pakistan saw the situation in Kathmandu as purely an internal problem of Nepal and that Islamabad fully supported the present government headed by the monarch. Secondly, Islamabad expressed disappointment at the Indian decision to postpone the SAARC summit. Shaukat Aziz assured the King that he would get in touch with all SAARC member states so as to come with fresh dates.

Officials, meanwhile have established contacts with other SAARC members as well. One diplomat said Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was furious at the Indian remarks and said that they had deliberately tried to undermine her government. She expressed these sentiments when she talked to the Pakistani leadership on telephone."

The summit has been postponed for 8 times in its 20 years of history out of which five times it happened because of India. Altogether, twelve summits have held since the association was founded in Dhaka in 1985 to promote economic cooperation in the heavily militarized and poverty ridden region. It was the brain child of former Bangladeshi president late Zia Ur Rehman, husband of the present Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Sources on condition of anonymity have confided to this correspondent that it neither the concern for security in Dhaka nor a political change in Nepal it is the present Prime Minister of Bangladesh Begum Khalida Zia who is not in good hooks of India. They said the apprehensions are being expressed in Islamabad and in several other SAARC states that India will never agree to a regional conference in Dhaka as long as Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is in power.

Though Pakistan being the incumbent chairperson of SAARC has been making phone calls to different SAARC capitals, it is difficult to gauge for them to speculate fresh dates, sources said.

The monarchy in Katmandu has announced to take at least three years to bring situation under control and the ground situation in Dhaka is also not going to change so quickly as to bring Sheikh Hasina Wajid back into power", said sources.



Unfortunately, the Indian political agenda seems to harm the progress of SAARC as a vibrant organization of regional cooperation. It surely does not reflect well on the spirit of cooperation among its member nations that after twenty years of its existence this regional group remains virtually moribund mainly due to India's negative attitude whereas political rivalries and interests taking precedence over SAARC's guiding principles.