Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan have pulled out of the Saarc summit in Pakistan in November, citing an “unsuitable environment” for the annual gathering of South Asian leaders.
The three countries announced their decision on Tuesday, the same day that New Delhi informed Saarc chair Nepal about not attending the summit.
Following a September 18 attack on an Indian Army base at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir that left 18 soldiers dead, New Delhi announced that it was pulling out of the 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meet, sharply escalating its attack on Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism.
“Due to increased level of violence and fighting as a result of imposed terrorism on Afghanistan, H.E. the President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani with his responsibilities as the Commander in Chief will be fully engaged, and will not be able to attend the summit,” Kabul said in its communication.
Both Bhutan and Bangladesh wrote similar missives to the Saarc secretariat on the same day with Dhaka’s reasoning more in line with New Delhi’s.
The decision by the four countries of the eight-member grouping will lead to its collapse in Islamabad.
“The growing interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh by one country has created an environment which is not conducive to the successful hosting of the 19th Saarc Summit in Islamabad in November 2016,” the communication from Bangladesh said.
“Bangladesh, as the initiator of the Saarc process, remains steadfast in its commitment to regional cooperation, connectivity and contacts but believes that these can only go forward in a more congenial atmosphere. In view of the above, Bangladesh is unable to participate in the proposed summit in Islamabad”, it continued.
Dhaka’s relations with Islamabad have soured in recent times with Bangladesh ticking off Pakistan for supporting terror outfits who have been blamed for a spate of attacks in the country. Dhaka also described Islamabad’s comments on the hanging of war criminal Mir Quasem Ali earlier this month as “interference” in its internal affairs.
Bhutan also sent a similar missive as Bangladesh on the same day.
Reaffirming Bhutan’s strong commitment to the Saarc process and strengthening of regional cooperation, the letter dated September 27 noted: “The concern of the Royal Government of Bhutan on the recent escalation of terrorism in the region, which has seriously compromised the environment for the successful holding of the 19th Saarc summit in Islamabad in November 2016.”
“Further, the Royal Government of Bhutan shares the concerns of some of the member countries of Saarc on the deterioration of regional peace and security due to terrorism and joins them in conveying our inability to participate in the Saarc summit, under the current circumstances.”
The development came against the backdrop of a spike in tensions between India and Pakistan over the Uri attack. India responded to the strike with a campaign aimed at isolating Pakistan on international stage.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said India had informed 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 summit in Islamabad.