By Mehreen Zahra-Malik
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders set for Islamabad in November has been postponed indefinitely, the Pakistani government said on Friday, amid rising tension between arch-rivals India and Pakistan.
India’s foreign ministry had announced on Tuesday that it would skip the meeting, blaming Pakistan for a deadly assault this month on an army base in the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir. Pakistan denies the accusations.
India’s decision was followed by Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan expressing their “inability” to attend.
“Pakistan deplores India’s decision to impede the SAARC process by not attending the 19th SAARC Summit at Islamabad on 9-10 November 2016,” the foreign office said in a statement.
“The spirit of the SAARC Charter is violated when a member state casts the shadow of its bilateral problems on the multilateral forum for regional cooperation.”
A spokesman for India’s foreign ministry said on Twitter: “We note Pakistan’s decision to postpone SAARC summit. They’ve been compelled to recognize the regional sentiment against terrorism.”
India said on Thursday that it had sent troops across its disputed border in Kashmir to kill men preparing to enter its territory and attack cities.
Pakistan has rejected Indian claims of “surgical strikes” into its territory and maintained that India fired unprovoked from its side of the heavily militarized frontier in Kashmir, killing two soldiers.
This area has been the flashpoint for two of three wars between the nuclear-armed neighbors since 1947.
India’s announcement of the raid on Thursday raised the possibility of military escalation that could wreck a 2003 Kashmir ceasefire.
India evacuated more than 10,000 villagers living near the border, and ordered security forces to upgrade surveillance along the frontier in Jammu and Kashmir state, part of the two countries’ 3,300-km (2,100 miles) boundary.
Hundreds of villages were being cleared along a 15 km (9 mile) strip in the lowland region of Jammu and further north on the Line of Control in the Himalayan mountains of Kashmir.
Modi’s government has been struggling to contain protests on the streets of Kashmir, where more than 80 civilians have been killed and thousands wounded in the last 10 weeks after a young separatist militant was killed by Indian security forces.
(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; editing by Mark Heinrich)