M A I N   N E W S

Dhaka SAARC summit in May-end or early June
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 25
Pakistan, the current Chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), is in the process of consultations with all member countries of the 7-member regional grouping for holding the next summit in Dhaka and indications are that it may be held May-end or early June.

Diplomatic sources today said a small window of May-end or early June was open for holding the next SAARC summit in Dhaka after taking into account India’s diplomatic calendar. A concerted effort has been mounted by the Chairman country to hold the SAARC summit after the April 23 surprise development in Jakarta when External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh conveyed to his Bangladeshi counterpart Morshed Khan India’s willingness to attend the Dhaka summit “at any suitable date acceptable to all member countries”.

The issue had not come up when Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had held talks with the Indian leadership during his recent India visit.

Sources in the High Commissions of Bangladesh and Pakistan here told this correspondent that no specific dates had yet been worked out for the summit which has already been postponed twice. Bangladesh has conveyed to the Chairman country that it required six weeks’ time to prepare for the event. A Pakistani diplomat here said the dates were being worked out by the Pakistani officials deployed in the SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu.

From India’s point of view, any dates between May 14 and first week of June would be suitable. The Budget session of Parliament ends on May 13. The Ministry of External Affairs is working on a series of visits abroad by Mr Natwar Singh from the second week of June. The MEA is planning Mr Natwar Singh’s visits to a number of countries like Italy, Hungary and UK. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would like his Foreign Minister to be present at an important multilateral event like SAARC summit.

Apart from other issues, an important issue that Indian diplomacy is going to face during the next SARC summit is the question of SAARC’s expansion. Pakistan and Bangladesh are going to bat for China, seeking Beijing’s inclusion in SAARC and Nepal and Sri Lanka are likely to support China’s cause. While India cannot afford to oppose China’s inclusion, it has to do some diplomatic ropewalk to ensure that the issue remains in cold storage.


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