Pakistan will not attend tobacco conference in India

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Pakistan will not attend a global tobacco control conference in India next week, a minister said on Friday, the latest fallout of strained diplomatic ties between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

India is hosting the biennial conference of the only global treaty aimed at deterring tobacco use, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Delegates from about 180 nations are expected to attend the conference.

“It’s a very important meeting on tobacco, but our visit doesn’t appear feasible due to ongoing tensions,” Saira Afzal Tarar, Pakistan’s junior minister of health services regulation and coordination, told Reuters.

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

Pakistan says the claim is false and the episode was normal shelling by its neighbor. Artillery duels and skirmishes on the border dividing the disputed Kashmir region have surged since.

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.

Writing by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani