(by Arunava Chaudhuri) India has decided to pull out of the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games in Pakistan next month citing threats to its contingent from Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other terrorist outfits operating from that country.
A decision to this effect has been taken by the External Affairs Ministry in consultation with the Sports Ministry which had earlier decided to send a 350-strong contingent to Islamabad for the 10-day event beginning March 29. Citing a two-fold reason for non-participation, the sources said “there are fears that the security of our contingent could be jeopardised as Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other terrorist organisations are operating from Pakistani soil.” The other reason, they said, was that Pakistan was continuing to aid and abet cross-border terrorism and had done nothing to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure existing there. “Participation in the Games will indicate that there has been some normalcy in ties between New Delhi and Islamabad. But that is not not the situation. The relations are not normal. Pakistan has not taken any action,” they said, adding that “under the circumstances, it is not possible to send the Indian contingent”.
Indian Olympic Association (IOA) President Suresh Kalmadi has termed the Government decision not to allow the Indian contingent to compete in the SAF Games to be held in Islamabad from March 29 as ‘unfortunate’.
Kalmadi said he was surprised to receive a letter from the Sports Ministry a few days back, which said it does not want India to compete because of the ‘current state of bilateral relations between the two nations’.
“The SAF Games is an international commitment and it is unfortunate the (Indian) Government is denying us permission. In fact, the then Sports Minister Uma Bharti had cleared the participation,” said Kalmadi.
The IOA chief also said: “The SAF Games is not India versus Pakistan, but a regional Games with all neighbouring countries participating. It is true the bilateral relations are strained, but the withdrawal of troops from the border has eased the tension to some extent.”
Kalmadi plans to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha to seek permission for participation.