India-Pakistan tensions threaten South Asia summit

New Delhi accuses Pakistan of masterminding the deadly assault on an Indian army base in Indian-administered Kashmir which raised fears of a new conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Photo by: AFP (Archive)
Photo by: AFP (Archive)

Flags of Pakistan (L) and India (R) appear hoisted at Wahga border.

Updated Sep 28, 2016

Three other countries on Wednesday followed India's lead and pulled out of a key South Asian summit set to be held in Pakistan. India’s decision follows a deadly attack on an army base in Indian-administered Kashmir. New Delhi blames the assault on a Pakistan-based group.

India on Tuesday pulled out of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit which will be held in Pakistan's capital Islamabad next month. The country cited an increase in cross-border terrorist attacks as tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours escalates.

The decision comes days after New Delhi accused Pakistan of masterminding a deadly assault on an army base in Indian-administered Kashmir this month that killed 18 soldiers.

Hours later India's decision, Bangladesh said it was also pulling out. Afghanistan and Bhutan—both close India allies—have since followed suit, according to a SAARC official who asked not to be named.

"Pakistan has been interfering in our internal affairs for some time," a senior Bangladesh foreign ministry official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

"That's why we have pulled out of the SAARC summit."

An Indian army soldier lays a wreath during a ceremony for Indian army soldiers killed in a gunbattle at the army headquarters in Srinagar. Source: AFP

India claims militants, belonging to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad outfit, snuck across the Line of Control (LoC) and launched the attack, inflicting the biggest loss of life for Indian security forces in the region during the past 14 years.

LoC is the de facto border dividing the disputed Kashmir region between India and Pakistan. Both countries lay claim to Kashmir in its entirety. The fenced border is heavily guarded and mined on both sides.

"India has conveyed to current SAARC Chair Nepal that increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region...have created an environment that is not conducive to the successful holding of the 19th SAARC Summit," the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"In the prevailing circumstances, the government of India is unable to participate in the proposed summit in Islamabad."

The SAARC summit, which brings together eight member states in the region, is scheduled to be held in Islamabad on November 9-10.

Earlier in January this year, the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammad group was implicated in a similar attack on an Indian air force base in Pathankot area of India's Punjab state. The attack left seven soldiers dead.

India Pakistan trade barbs

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Monday, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said: "Pakistan remains in denial. It persists in the belief that such attacks will enable it to obtain the territory it covets.

"My firm advice to Pakistan is: abandon this dream. Let me state unequivocally that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and will always remain so."

Pakistan rejected the accusation and called Swaraj's speech a "litany of falsehoods" that distorted history, and denied its forces had aided the army base attack.

"These allegations are designed principally to deflect global attention from the brutalities being perpetrated by India's over half a million occupation force against innocent and unarmed Kashmiri children, women and men," said a statement by Pakistan’s foreign office released late Monday.

"Jammu and Kashmir never was and can never be an integral part of India. It is a disputed territory, the final status of which has yet to be determined in accordance with several resolutions of the UN Security Council."

Pakistan said India should conduct a proper investigation before it apportions blame.

Several rebel groups have fought an estimated 500,000 Indian forces deployed in Kashmir, demanding independence for the Muslim-majority region or its merger with Pakistan.

More than 68,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising against Indian rule which began in 1989 and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.

In this picture taken on September 12, 2016, the grave of Burhan Wani is seen in his native Tral village.

Recently Indian-administered Kashmir has been grappling with its worst unrest in six years that began on July 8 when Indian security forces killed separatist commander Burhan Wani, provoking an outpouring of anger.

The separatist commander was idolised especially by youths in Kashmir.

Over 100 people have been killed, hundreds blinded and over a thousand injured in violent clashes with Indian government forces despite repeated imposition of curfews in Indian-administered Kashmir since Wani was killed.

Pakistan-India mistrust mars SAARC

Indian and Pakistani mistrust has long undermined South Asian cooperation and is widely blamed for the poor performance of SAARC, which successive Indian leaders hoped would help South Asia become a viable economic counterweight to China.

The two arch rivals — locked in a string of land and sea disputes — have already fought three fully-fledged wars, two of them over Kashmir, since 1947. 

Water troubles

India's decision to pull out of the 19th SAARC summit came hours after Islamabad warned New Delhi against drawing more water from three rivers that flow from India into Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Adviser, Sartaj Aziz, said Islamabad would seek arbitration with a commission that monitors the Indus Water Treaty if India increased its use of water from the Chenab, Jhelum and Indus rivers.

India says it does not plan to abrogate the treaty but Modi said on Monday that, "Blood and water cannot flow at the same time."

He said that India should "maximise" the amount of water it uses without breaching the agreement. 

The Indian prime minister's statement has been reported as a veiled threat by several media outlets.

If India revoked the treaty, Aziz said, Pakistan would treat that as "an act of war or a hostile act against Pakistan".

TRTWorld and agencies