Wednesday, February 09, 2005

PAKISTAN:Musharraf for SAARC meet even if one nation absent

+ "If somebody does not want to attend, they should not, the others should attend-why should one country have the onus of postponing or scuttling the whole meeting," Musharraf said.+

Musharraf for Saarc meet even if one nation absent

09/02/2005

ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf said yesterday future South Asian regional summits should go ahead even if one of the seven member countries asks for a postponement.

The thirteenth summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), which was scheduled to take place in Bangladesh on Sunday and Monday, was called off after India said it would not attend, citing the security situation in Dhaka and a political crisis in Nepal.

Musharraf was quoted by the official APP news agency as saying at a news conference with visiting Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga that Saarc members should make a decision on the issue so that summits were not postponed again.

"If somebody does not want to attend, they should not, the others should attend-why should one country have the onus of postponing or scuttling the whole meeting," Musharraf said.

"We feel that because of the frequency of the postponements we have seen over the past years, we need to collectively decide on what course needs to be taken," he said.

Saarc, an economic grouping formed in 1985, includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives.

It has been held hostage by longstanding enmity between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir dispute and has made little progress to boost economic growth in the region, where many live in abject poverty.

The postponement also meant the leaders of India and Pakistan missed a chance to breathe new life into a shaky peace process between the nuclear-armed neighbours. The prime ministers of the two countries were due to meet during the summit.

Kumaratunga, who arrived in Islamabad on Monday for a three-day official visit, said she hoped a new date for a Saarc summit would be decided soon. During her visit the two sides are expected to sign a protocol on free trade today and an agreement on exempting students from visa fees.