Maldives calls for ‘environment conducive to holding SAARC summit’

Maldives calls for ‘environment conducive to holding SAARC summit’
October 02 17:36 2016

The Maldives has urged member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to create an environment conducive to hold an annual summit that has been postponed amid rising India-Pakistan tensions.

This year’s host Pakistan announced Friday that the 19th summit has been delayed indefinitely after four out of eight member states led by India boycotted the meeting. India blamed Pakistan for a militant attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir that left 18 soldiers dead.

“The Maldives condemns international terrorism, especially those originating from outside,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.

It added that the Maldives has “encouraged states to provide a valuable opportunity for the leaders to discuss critical issues facing the region and expressed hope that the required measures will be taken by relevant member states to convene the summit at an early date.”

The summit can only be convened if all heads of state or government of all member states participate. It was due to take place in Islamabad from November 9 to 10.

Following India’s lead and backing its concerns over security, Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Bangladesh also expressed “inability” to attend the meeting.

Founded in 1985, SAARC’s member states are Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The rivalry between India and Pakistan has been blamed for the lack of progress in regional economic cooperation.

Citing lack of consensus, Sri Lanka also pulled out of the summit on Friday as Nepal, the current chair of the group, reportedly tried to hold talks in a bid to salvage the summit.

Akhilesh Mishra, the Indian Ambassador to the Maldives, meanwhile expressed gratitude to the Maldivian government after Friday’s statement.

But former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, who recently took up his new post as the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of religious belief, said the delay in making a stand has shown that the government’s avowed ‘India First’ policy is a “pretence.”

The Maldives has traditionally enjoyed close ties with both India and Pakistan, but relations have improved since Yameen assumed the presidency.

In May, after a four-day official visit to Pakistan, Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar said the Pakistani government has agreed to provide a US$10 million credit line facility to purchase military equipment and two aircraft for the Maldivian army.

Shareef told state media in August that both India and Pakistan have pledged assistance for developing a Maldivian airforce.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party meanwhile condemned the Kashmir terror attack on Saturday, urging the government to boycott the summit in Pakistan.

“The MDP strongly feels Pakistan must combat and delegitimise terror groups in the region by unequivocally distancing itself from any and all such militant groups,” it said.

“The MDP believes that such a denouncement is a crucial precursor for a sustainable and peaceful solution to this regional crisis. The MDP furthermore wishes to commend India for its continued restraint and measured response, which has prevented further escalation of tensions.”