India’s intransigence all but kills SAARC

29 Sep



By Kamran Yousaf


ISLAMABAD: India’s irrational anger and divisive regional strategy has all but killed the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). The summit of the key regional forum was unofficially postponed after New Delhi pulled out in a frantic move to isolate Pakistan politically and economically in the aftermath of the Sept 18 Uri assault. A formal announcement of postponement would be made by Nepal, the current chair of the bloc.

According to the charter of Saarc, which brings together eight member states in the region, the summit is postponed should any member state declines to participate. And this is exactly what Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister’s top foreign policy aide, said. “Even if one member pulls out, the conference cannot go on as per schedule,” he told a news channel.

India pulls out of SAARC summit in Islamabad

Aziz, however, made it clear that “whenever the summit takes place, it would be in Pakistan” dismissing Indian media reports that the venue of the conference could be shifted.

Taking cue from India, Bangladesh also decided to stay away from the summit, which was scheduled to be held in Islamabad on November 9-10. Afghanistan and Bhutan – both close India allies – have since followed suit, according to a Nepali government official.

Pakistan has called India’s decision ‘unfortunate’. And unfortunate it is. The 31-year-old organisation has a symbolic value for regional cooperation, though the bloc hasn’t made any significant progress to boost trade in South Asia. Moreover, India-Pakistan mistrust is widely blamed for the poor performance of the forum.

However, hopes rekindled for meaningful regional cooperation when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an unprecedented move, invited regional leaders, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration in 2014. The same year, Modi used the Saarc summit in Nepal to openly speak about the grouping’s failure to tap the region’s full potential.

The Indian leader’s speech gave an impression that the realisation has sunk in about the losing clout of the bloc – which was modeled on the European Union. But less than two-and-a-half years down the lane, it has now emerged that Modi’s move was nothing but just a gimmick.

The Indian premier has often advocated regional integration and reinvigorating organisations such as Saarc. But ironically, Modi himself has now dealt what many analysts call a fatal blow to the regional grouping, which represents close to 2 billion mostly under developed population and has the potential to transform itself on the lines of the EU.

Contrary to Modi’s rhetoric of fighting poverty and unemployment through regional cooperation, his government ganged up along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan to sabotage the Saarc summit.

This, however, is not the first time India has undermined the regional bloc. The Saarc summit had been delayed at least eight times in the past and on most occasions it was due to India.

Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan join India in withdrawing from SAARC summit in Pakistan

“The India move is clearly aimed at isolating Pakistan in the wake of Uri attack,” commented Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed, who teaches international politics at Quaid-i-Azam University. “But in doing so it (India) is setting a dangerous precedent. It is pushing the region from mutual cooperation to conflicts,” Dr Ishtiaq said.

In its reaction, Pakistan lashed out at India for what it called impeding the Saarc process. Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said India had a track record of impeding the Saac process. “Indian intentions of creating hurdles yet again are visible from the actions and statements at the political level during the last two months coupled with coordinated media efforts,” the spokesperson said.

New Delhi pulled out of the Saarc summit on Tuesday, citing an increase in cross-border terrorist attacks, “India is desperate to divert the international community’s attention from the atrocities and blatant human rights violations being committed by the Indian forces in India Occupied Kashmir,” Zakria said.

The spokesperson pointed out that major thrust of Saarc activities was to uplift socio-economic conditions of the people of South Asia, which has highest concentration of the world’s poor. “India’s negative attitude has had a direct bearing on the welfare and betterment in this region, which is highly regrettable,” he lamented.

Analysts believe that the postponement of the summit has all but killed the regional bloc. “Has Saarc died today? Probably not. But it has received critical wounds. And if first aid is not provided on time, it might die of excessive bleeding,” writes BBC Urdu columnist Wusatullah Khan.

Indian analysts agree the pull-outs would have little practical impact on Pakistan. “It basically scores a symbolic victory. As for Pakistan, this will push it even closer to China,” said Malik, head of the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation’s regional studies initiative.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2016.



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