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New Delhi: Pakistan on Thursday lamented that the postponement of a summit of South Asian leaders to be held in Islamabad in November—seen to be led by India—had deprived the people of the region of another chance of improving regional cooperation and development.

On its part, India hit back, stating New Delhi was fully committed to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) grouping and it was Pakistan that needed to drop its objections to regional connectivity as well as its use of cross-border terrorism to ensure progress in Saarc.

Pakistan’s comments came earlier Thursday on the 32nd anniversary of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka signing a charter to establish the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan was committed to the objectives of the grouping.

“While Saarc has, albeit survived, it has not triumphed as had been envisaged, falling behind on the commitments and the promises that we had set out to achieve: progress and prosperity for the common good of our people," Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said.

“We, in Pakistan, continue to believe in the viability of Saarc," he said in the message forwarded by the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi.

“As its founding member, Pakistan stands steadfastly by the principles of the Saarc Charter. It was in manifestation of the same spirit that Pakistan had made all preparations for hosting the 19th Saarc Summit. However, the postponement of the Summit has deprived our people, once more, of the prospects of development, prosperity and regional cooperation," he said.

The 19th Saarc summit was to be hosted by Islamabad on 9-10 November but India announced on 28 September that it was pulling out on the back of spiralling tensions with Pakistan due to a terrorist attack on an Indian Army garrison in Uri.

Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan too made near simultaneous announcements that they too found the atmosphere not conducive to attend the Islamabad-hosted summit, leading to a collapse of the meet. Pakistan then announced a postponement of the meet.

In response to Sharif’s comments, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said India’s commitment to the Saarc process was undiluted. Referring to recent remarks by prime minister Narendra Modi, Swarup said India was for “regional prosperity, stability and most importantly for connectivity."

“We all know why Saarc has not made progress because one standout country has consistently opposed all our efforts and initiatives towards promoting greater regional cooperation and connectivity," Swarup said referring to Pakistan blocking a Saarc motor vehicle pact as well Saarc railways pact at the 2014 Kathmandu summit.

“Terrorism is a major threat in efforts towards regional integration because terrorism derails all possible initiatives we can take," he said.

“So, unless cross-border terrorism is addressed, unless a mindset that opposes all connectivity initiatives is reversed, I am afraid the situation will pretty much remain the same," Swarup said.

When asked about Pakistan hosting the Saarc summit, Swarup said the “ball is in Pakistan’s court. As long as they decide not to give up that mandate (of hosting the summit) it is for them to reschedule that summit," he said.

Saarc was set up in December 1985 with the signing of the charter. It had seven countries of South Asia to start with, with Afghanistan joining the grouping in 2007.

The grouping was envisaged in the 1970s by then President of Bangladesh Ziaur Rahman, who proposed the creation of a trade bloc consisting of South Asian countries. The proposal was accepted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka during a meeting held in Colombo in 1981. In August 1983, the leaders adopted the Declaration on South Asian Regional Cooperation during a summit which was held in New Delhi, giving a formal shape to the grouping.

Despite varied efforts, South Asia remains one of the least connected in the world with leaders of Saarc countries frequently lamenting its backwardness, poverty and low levels of intra-Saarc trade.

Many countries within Saarc have also been critical of India-Pakistan tensions hobbling progress within the grouping.

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