Pakistan to stay away from tobacco conference in India


Pakistan will not attend a global tobacco-control conference in India next week, a government minister said on Friday, in the latest fallout of strained diplomatic ties between the South Asian neighbours.

India is hosting the biennial conference of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the only global treaty to deter tobacco consumption. Delegates from around 180 countries are expected to attend.

“It’s a very important meeting on tobacco, but our visit doesn’t appear feasible due to on-going tensions,” Saira Afzal Tarar, State Minister of Health Sciences Regulation and Coordination, told Reuters.

Pakistani health ministry officials had not yet secured visas to attend the conference, Tarar said.

“One or two officials of the health ministry had applied for visa to attend the conference, but I think they are facing issues in getting it.”

India’s foreign ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Pakistan was invited to the conference but said it would not be able to attend, Guangyuan Liu, an official of the FCTC secretariat, told reporters in New Delhi on Thursday, without giving any reason for the decision.

The conference will run from Monday to Nov 12.

Conference decisions on treaty provisions will have a direct bearing on a global tobacco industry that Euromonitor International estimates is worth $784 billion this year.

Topics for discussion include alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers, e-cigarettes and trade and investment issues.

Relations between Pakistan and India have soured in recent weeks after New Delhi said it had launched retaliatory “surgical strikes” against militants in Pakistan in the wake of a raid on an Indian army camp that left 19 soldiers dead.

The Pakistani military swiftly rubbished the claim as false, and said the episode was normal shelling by India. Artillery duels and skirmishes on the border dividing the disputed Kashmir region have surged since.

The Indian prime minister stepped up a drive to isolate Pakistan diplomatically after the Uri army base attack.

The two countries have locked horns over the Kashmir issue since Indian forces stepped up a crackdown against protesters after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by government forces in July.