Stepping up diplomacy pressure on Pakistan, India on Tuesday said, “In the prevailing circumstances”, the government is unable to participate in the November SAARC summit in Islamabad. The decision on cancelling Indian participation was taken even as discussions continued about steps such as reviewing the MFN status for Pakistan following the Uri attack.
“India has conveyed to current SAARC chair Nepal that increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region and growing interference in the internal affairs of Member States by one country have created an environment that is not conducive to the successful holding of the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad in November 2016. In the prevailing circumstances, the Government of India is unable to participate in the proposed Summit in Islamabad,” the Ministry of External Affairs said on Tuesday in a press release. Sources also revealed that Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan are also likely to stay away from the Islamabad summit.
The decision is unprecedented as this is the first time that India has cancelled participation in the regional group’s summit meeting because of actions that it blames on Pakistan-based elements. The tough step had been under consideration since the Uri attack, the second such cross border strike in nine months after the January 2 Pathankot airbase strike. India had earlier accepted Pakistan’s invitation for the summit in March during a ministerial meeting held in Kathmandu.
Experts said India’s cancellation might handicap economic integration in South Asia. “It is not possible to run economic integration in South Asia without the two biggest economies working together. It is sad if SAARC is euthanised,” said Sheel Kant Sharma, former Secretary General of SAARC (2007-20’11).
Earlier in the day, India summoned Pakistan High Commissioner to “firm up” its case on the Uri attack. The envoy was summoned for the second time since the September 18 attack which claimed 18 lives, and was given names of the people from the Pakistani side who assisted the militant strike.
“High Commissioner Abdul Basit was summoned to firm up India’s case against Pak.-based supporters to the attack and to counter Pakistan’s narrative that the incident was a false-flag attack,” said a diplomatic source who explained that India was compelled to summon Mr. Basit after Pakistan’s Defence and Water Resources Minister Khwaja Asif alleged in an interview that the Uri incident was a “self-generated Vaakya [drama].”
According to the details of the diplomatic protest note (demarche), officials on Tuesday told the Pakistani envoy that the Uri attackers came from the Pakistani territory and were guided to their target by two guides, Faizal Hussain Awan and Yasin Khursheed, who were apprehended and handed over to the authorities by the locals. Mr Hussain confessed to the National Investigation Agency that they had “guided and facilitated” the border crossing of the four-member group that carried out the massacre.
Mr. Awan also identified one of the slain attackers as one Hafiz Ahmed from Dharbang, Muzaffarabad and disclosed that two handlers for the raid were Mohammed Kabir Awan and Basharat.
An NIA official said the terrorists were given arms training for a month at a camp run by Jaish-e-Mohammed in PoK. “During their interrogation they have disclosed that they were tasked by the JeM commanders to facilitate infiltration of a group of four JeM cadres who carried out the Uri Army camp attack.”
Security forces also apprehended on September 23, opposite Pakistan’s Sialkot sector, one Pakistani national named Abdul Qayoom who confessed that he underwent three weeks of training with the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Tuesday’s protest note issued to Mr. Basit, counted the latest arrests and “strongly urged” the government of Pakistan to take seriously its commitment to prevent use of Pakistan’s territory against Indian interest.
However, Pakistani diplomatic sources told The Hindu that Mr Basit refused to acknowledge the proof that was extended to him and sought an international probe into the Uri attack that Indian officials rejected. Pakistan termed ongoing discussions in India over review of the Indus Water Treaty as “blatant violation of international law.” “Threats of water war are a part of a military economic and diplomatic campaign to build pressure on Pakistan in the wake of our campaign to expose Indian savageries in the Indian-Occupied Kashmir since July 8 2016,” Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Tuesday.
Meet on MFN status
The Prime Minister’s Office has called for a meeting on Thursday on Most Favoured Nation status-related issues. The meeting, which is part of the diplomatic measures to target Pakistan for its alleged role in Uri, will be attended by officials from the Ministries of External Affairs and Commerce. India had granted the MFN status to Pakistan in 1996 as part of its commitments on joining the World Trade Organisation.
(With Suhasini Haidar & Vijaita Singh)