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Bangladesh withdraws from regional summit in Islamabad

Associated Press Associated Press 28/09/2016

NEW DELHI — Bangladesh announced Wednesday that it will not participate in a meeting of South Asian nations in Pakistan in November, following the withdrawal of India, the largest member of the regional bloc, a day earlier.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs M. Shahriar Alam gave no reason for Bangladesh's decision other than his country's "domestic engagements."

Diplomatic tensions between Bangladesh and Pakistan have escalated in recent years, with each government summoning the other's top diplomat over Bangladesh's execution of people convicted of involvement in its 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the war. Pakistan denies the allegation.

The move is seen as part of India's diplomatic efforts to isolate archrival Pakistan after a recent militant attack on an Indian army base in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers. New Delhi blames a Pakistan-based militant group for the attack. Pakistan denies that.

On Tuesday, India pulled out of the meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, citing increasing terror attacks in the region and blaming "one member" for interfering in the internal affairs of member states. It said the atmosphere was not conducive for a successful summit. It did not name Pakistan directly.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to attend the eight-nation summit in the Pakistani capital. The other member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

There was no immediate comment from Pakistan on Bangladesh's withdrawal, but it earlier called India's announcement unfortunate. A foreign ministry spokesman said Pakistan remained committed to peace and regional cooperation.

SAARC was founded in 1985 to promote economic cooperation in the region, but tensions between India and Pakistan have repeatedly blocked progress.

Since the attack on the military base in Indian-controlled Kashmir's Uri town, Indian officials including Prime Minister Narendra Modi have said they will work to isolate Pakistan internationally, accusing it of trying to destabilize Asia by exporting terrorism.

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