Islamabad: The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, beleaguered by internal rifts, is headed for more difficult days as India is attempting to block on "procedural grounds" the appointment of a Pakistani diplomat as the next secretary general of the eight-member grouping, a Pakistani daily said on Wednesday.
"The Saarc secretariat can, therefore, potentially remain a headless body for a long time if the stalemate prolongs and the dispute is not resolved soon," Dawn said. The turn of a Pakistani to head the Saarc Secretariat, which is held by rotation for a period of three years, starts from March 1, 2017, and continues till February 28, 2020.
This is the first time in Saarc's troubled history that it is moving towards a standoff over the Secretary General's appointment. Amjad Hussain Sial, a career diplomat, had been nominated by Pakistan as the 13th Secretary General of Saarc to replace the outgoing Kathmandu-based Saarc Secretariat Secretary General Arjun Bahadur Thapa, whose tenure expires on February 28.
Sial's nomination was made at the Saarc Council of Ministers in Pokhara (Nepal) in March 2016 and was endorsed by all member states. New Delhi, however, through a diplomatic note last month asked the secretariat to adhere to the "due working procedures" in the appointment of Thapa's successor, it said.
The Indian position was that the nomination had to be ratified by the Council of Ministers meeting in Islamabad, which could not happen due to postponement of the summit after India and other members of the bloc pulled out of the meeting over terrorism. Pakistani officials, meanwhile, accuse India of employing "delaying tactics". They insist that concurrence had been received from all members, including India.
Relations between Islamabad and New Delhi nosedived last year due to the aggravating situation in Jammu and Kashmir. India also accused a Pakistan-based militant group for the attack on one of its military camps in Uri and later withdrew from the Saarc summit that was to be hosted by Pakistan in November, citing concerns over terrorism.
The eight-member regional bloc has long been held hostage to the intense Pakistan-India rivalry although its charter explicitly disallows bringing regional disputes to the forum.
Pakistan has been contributing 24 per cent of the Secretariat's budget.Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz in his meeting with outgoing Saarc Secretary General Thapa last week said India "impeded the Saarc process and violated" the spirit of the Saarc Charter.