ISLAMABAD: As simmering tensions between its two key members cast a shadow over the regional event, Pakistan has formally invited heads of states and governments – including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – for the upcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit.
“The prime minister of Pakistan has invited the leaders of Saarc Member States to grace the summit with their presence and is looking forward to welcome them in Islamabad,” said a statement, issued by the foreign office on Friday.
It said nine observers of Saarc have also been invited to attend the 19th Saarc summit, scheduled to be hosted by Islamabad on November 9 and 10.
The formal invitation was sent to the Indian prime minister as well as other Saarc countries at a time when tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi are running high over recent unrest in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) and Modi’s controversial statement on Balochistan.
Because of the worsening ties, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley skipped the Saarc finance ministers’ meeting that concluded on Friday.
Although, Pakistan formally invited India for the summit, it is not clear if Modi will travel to Islamabad for the key regional conference. Pakistan, at least, is giving the impression that the summit will go ahead as planned.
“The preparations for successful holding of the summit in Islamabad are being made by Pakistan,” said Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakria.
The spokesperson said in order to give impetus to the process of preparations, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry inaugurated a Saarc Summit Cell at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday.
The Saarc Summit Cell is headed by Ambassador Amjad Sial, who is a senior diplomat and nominee of the Government of Pakistan as Saarc’s next secretary general,
The cell will closely work with all stakeholders and authorities concerned in Pakistan. It will also liaise with the member states, Saarc observers and the Saarc Secretariat for organisation of the summit.
Pakistan briefs P-5, EU on Kashmir unrest
Meanwhile, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on Friday confirmed that India turned down its latest offer of talks on Kashmir.
Aziz was briefing ambassadors of the permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, UK and USA – and the European Union on Friday over the killings and serious human rights violations being committed by the Indian forces in the IOK.
According to the foreign office, the adviser regretted the refusal from the Indian side in response to Pakistan’s proposal for talks on Kashmir dispute. In this regard, he briefed the ambassadors over the exchange of letters between the foreign secretary and his Indian counterpart.
Aziz stated that the international community, especially the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the European Union, has an important role to uphold the principles of human rights and international humanitarian law.
He urged them to fulfill their commitments to the people of Jammu and Kashmir under the UN Security Council resolutions. The adviser said Pakistan welcomes the UN secretary general’s offer and would be ready to engage in a dialogue to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
In response to a letter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on August 19 appreciated Pakistan’s commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute and offered “his good offices to facilitate dialogue for a negotiated settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.”
The P-5 and EU ambassadors stressed the need to resolve the issue peacefully. They also acknowledged the importance of dialogue to address this longstanding issue and the prevailing grave situation. They also acknowledged Pakistan’s readiness for dialogue.
The adviser also deplored the lethal use of force by the Indian occupation forces against the innocent Kashmiri people and conveyed serious concerns over the recent bloodshed, which has claimed more than 80 lives and inflicted injuries on more than 7,000 Kashmiris since July 08 2016.
“The oppressive measures by India could not deter the valiant people of the Jammu and Kashmir from their just struggle for their right of self-determination,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2016.