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Doubts Over Indian Attendance Lead to Postponing of SAARC Summit - 2002-12-09

Pakistan has postponed a meeting of South Asian leaders scheduled for next month in Islamabad. Pakistani officials said they have no choice because India has refused to confirm it would participate in the summit.

The summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was to be held in the Pakistani capital January 11-13.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kamran Niaz, told reporters that India has refused to confirm it will attend the meeting. He said participation of all seven members of SAARC is compulsory in order for the regional summit to take place.

"In view of the little time left to make proper preparations and in the face of the continued Indian refusal to confirm its participation, the government of Pakistan is regrettably left with no alternative but to postpone the 12th SAARC summit," Mr. Niaz said.

Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are the other members of the association, which was set up to promote economic activity in South Asia.

Mr. Niaz accuses India of setting preconditions for its attendance. "The Indian government has been acting deviously all along regarding its participation in the 12th SAARC summit in Pakistan. The games that the Indian governments have played with SAARC summits reveal its lack of interest in the association," Mr. Niaz said. Relations between India and Pakistan remain tense over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The Indian government has sought, what it calls, a climate of reconciliation before Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee could travel to Pakistan for the summit.

Among other things, India said it wants an end to Pakistan-sponsored "cross-border terrorism" in Kashmir. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of sending armed militants to fuel a separatist Muslim insurgency in Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.

Pakistan denies the charges and said it only provides moral, political, and diplomatic support to what it calls "a freedom struggle." The two nations came close to war over Kashmir earlier this year, but intense international diplomacy helped reduce the tensions.