India-Pak chill puts question mark on SAARC summit

NEW DELHI(DNA): Deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan in the wake of unrest in Kashmir may consume the 19th SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad on November 9 and 10. India on Friday upped the ante further, describing Pakistan as the perpetrator of terrorism not only in India, but in the larger region as well. It also rejected the idea that current unrest in Kashmir could be the basis for a result-oriented dialogue.

Although, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has invited the leaders of SAARC member states, it remains unclear whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Pakistan for the summit given the strain in bilateral ties. According to SAARC charter, since decisions in the grouping need consensus, a summit cannot take place in the absence of any member.

Asked whether Modi will be travelling to Islamabad in November, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup skirted a reply, but said Pakistan’s attitude of providing support, sanctuary and safe havens to terrorists and making the distinction between good and bad terrorists has posed enormous risk to peace and stability in the region. “And it is important for Pakistan to recognise that reality, to not remain in denial about the impact of cross-border terrorism on bilateral relations. I think the sooner Pakistan recognises the central importance of this fact, the sooner India Pakistan relations can make progress,” he said.

Home minister Rajnath Singh had visited Pakistan earlier this month for the SAARC ministers’ meeting during which the chill in ties was evident while finance minister Arun Jaitley skipped the ongoing SAARC finance ministers’ meeting and instead sent economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das to represent India at the meet. In Islamabad, Pakistan foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry on Friday inaugurated a SAARC Summit Cell at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for making preparations and arrangements.

Earlier, in reply to his Pakistani counterpart’s letter inviting him for talks, foreign secretary S Jaishankar sought a result- oriented dialogue on the issue of terrorism and the early vacation by Pakistan of its illegal occupation of territory of Kashmir. This letter is the latest in a series of notes he has exchanged with Pakistan foreign secretary since Modi’s Independence Day address that invoked Balochistan, where Islamabad faces charges of human rights abuses.

Even as the letter reveals a growing hardening of postures by both sides, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has attributed deteriorating law and order situation and her failure to calm nerves to upping of ante between India and Pakistan. During her two meetings with Rajnath Singh over past many days, she was at pains to explain that reviving the dialogue and peace process with Pakistan along with a political outreach in Srinagar was utmost necessary for restoring calm.

On Friday Pakistan PM’s adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, while briefing the ambassadors of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and the European Union regretted the refusal of India to Pakistan’s proposal for talks on Jammu and Kashmir.

Foreign secretary Jaishankar in his communication while reiterating that the basis for further discussions are the Simla Agreement of 1972, the Lahore Declaration of 1999 and the Joint Statement of 2004, underlined that as far as terrorism is concerned, not just India but the larger region is acutely aware that Pakistan is actually a prime perpetrator.

He further made it explicit that the agenda before India and Pakistan today is clearly to put an end to cross-border terrorism and incitement to violence from Pakistan, while conveying his his readiness to be available to engage any time at mutual convenience on these issues. But he mentioned that justifying terrorism and interference in the internal affairs of India is hardly a serious basis for a result-oriented dialogue. He hoped that Pakistan will reconsider its approach and show sincerity towards promoting good neighbourliness and peaceful co-existence. “This will also send a larger message to a region which is deeply troubled by the policies that emanate from Pakistan,” stated the letter.