SAARC FM Meet Cancelled Over Pak Row On Afghan ‘Empty’ Seat
(This was originally posted in WION by Sidhant Sibal)
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation(SAARC) informal foreign ministers meeting due to take place on September 25 at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has been cancelled over Pakistan’s objection on who will represent Afghanistan at the meet. SAARC had reached a consensus with Afghanistan’s representation with an “empty seat” as a key solution for the informal foreign ministers meet to take place.
However, the consensus broke down with Pakistan insisting on certain conditions which included the Taliban’s representation. At the United Nations, Afghan Republic’s envoy Ghulam Isaczai still represents his country. He is listed to speak at the UNGA as well for his country. A note verbale by Nepal foreign ministry sent on September 21 said, “due to lack of concurrence from all member states as of today, the informal meeting of the SAARC council of ministers proposed to be held in person on September 25, 2021….will not take place”. Nepal is the chair of the grouping. The SAARC secretariat also sent a similar letter of cancellation of the meet.
The SAARC secretariat had sent a note verbale on September 14 announcing the date for the meet on September 25 at 3 pm (New York time). Nepal as the chair decides on invitations to the meet. It is not known who Nepal sent the invite to in Afghanistan. Afghanistan saw a dramatic change of government on August 15 after Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban. In the chaos, the Afghan government led by President Dr Ashraf Ghani fell. It led to questions over who represents Afghanistan at various international forums but so far the Afghan mission representatives globally appointed by Ashraf Ghani hold the fort.
The current development assumes significance amid the deteriorating India-Pakistan ties. In 2019, the meeting took place at the sidelines of UNGA. Last year, the meet was conducted in virtual mode. The meeting has been taking place since 1997 annually on the sidelines of the UNGA.