On Tuesday India said Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad in November.
Without naming Pakistan, India’s foreign ministry said “increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region and growing interference in the internal affairs of member states by one country” had created an environment that was not conducive for a meeting.
Hours later, Bangladesh said it was also pulling out. Afghanistan and Bhutan have since followed suit, according to a SAARC official who asked not to be named.
‘Closer to China’
Current SAARC chair Nepal would not comment on speculation the summit would be cancelled, but said it would issue a statement later in the day.
The leaders of the eight SAARC countries — which also include Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives — expressed frustration after the last summit in Kathmandu with the slow pace of progress towards greater regional integration.
Analysts say this is down to the mutual mistrust between Pakistan and powerhouse India.
South Asia analyst Ashok Malik said the withdrawals would have little practical impact on Pakistan, but could push it closer to rival regional power China.
“It basically scores a symbolic and a political victory. As for Pakistan, this will push it even closer to China,” said Malik, head of the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation’s regional studies initiative.
Pakistan reminded the world that it is “committed to peace and regional cooperation” and accused New Delhi of perpetrating “terrorism” on its soil.
— SpokespersonMOFA (@ForeignOfficePk) September 27, 2016
“As for the excuse used by India, the world knows that it is India that has been perpetrating and financing terrorism in Pakistan,” tweeted foreign ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria late Tuesday, citing the capture of an Indian intelligence officer in Baluchistan earlier this year.
Pakistan has repeatedly reminded India of its interference in the southwestern province of Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan and is afflicted by an insurgency.