Addu Sum­mit Failed to Achieve Any­thing

Southasia - - The last stop -

The Seven­teenth SAARC Sum­mit was held on Novem­ber 10 and 11 in Mal­dives with a pledge to pro­mote re­gional trade and fa­cil­i­tate com­mu­ni­ca­tions and travel among the mem­ber coun­tries. Most of us could have pre­dicted this out­come a year in ad­vance. Nev­er­the­less, our prime min­is­ter prob­a­bly must have been look­ing for­ward to it for a long time as both he and the pres­i­dent love for­eign trips, ac­com­pa­nied by a big en­tourage.

The out­come of the Addu Sum­mit should not sur­prise us as noth­ing sub­stan­tial has hap­pened in the past sum­mits as well. The most note­wor­thy event in most of the SAARC Sum­mits has been the meet­ing of the In­dian and Pak­istani heads of govern­ment and this one was no ex­cep­tion.

The venue of the an­nual sum­mit ro­tates amongst the mem­ber coun­tries, i.e. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, In­dia, Mal­dives, Nepal, Pak­istan and Sri Lanka. The Sum­mit this year ro­tated amongst nine ex­otic is­lands within the Mal­dives.

The Mal­di­vian Pres­i­dent de­clared “Build­ing Bridges” – both in terms of phys­i­cal con­nec­tiv­ity and fig­u­ra­tive po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue – as the theme for the Sum­mit. The Mal­di­vians per­haps re­al­iz­ing the fu­til­ity of these an­nual meet­ings tried to find a fo­cus for the Sum­mit.

Like ASEAN, SAARC was formed as a re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tion to pro­mote eco­nomic, tech­no­log­i­cal, so­cial and cul­tural de­vel­op­ment through co­op­er­a­tion and in­te­gra­tion ef­forts. The prob­lem is that most of the mem­ber states are so em­broiled in bor­der dis­putes that co­op­er­a­tion of any kind, es­pe­cially eco­nomic, is the last thing that comes to their mind.

It is about time that the SAARC mem­bers and its Sec­re­tar­iat re­al­ize the fail­ure of the or­ga­ni­za­tion in ever re­solv­ing any ma­jor dis­putes and un­der­take ac­tive steps to build bridges. In­tel­lec­tu­als of the mem­ber states should iden­tify the prob­lems be­set­ting bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween the mem­bers and the Sec­re­tar­iat should pro­pose a strat­egy to help re­move the ob­sta­cles.

Ig­nor­ing this as­pect of the lack of progress is not go­ing to help. In­dian lead­ers keep re­it­er­at­ing that one can­not choose one’s neigh­bors but sel­dom show any mag­na­nim­ity in re­solv­ing In­dia’s dis­putes with its neigh­bors. What to talk of show­ing any flex­i­bil­ity over the is­sue of Kash­mir, it only re­cently agreed to solve the prob­lem of the en­claves sit­u­ated at its bor­der with Bangladesh. This is­sue of en­claves was ex­tremely weird to say the least as there were pock­ets of land like is­lands that were lo­cated in­side the ter­ri­tory of the other state; and in­hab­ited by state­less peo­ple. In­dia failed to solve the prob­lem un­til re­cently when its Prime Min­is­ter vis­ited Dhaka. The same goes with its is­sue of water dis­tri­bu­tion with Bangladesh and Pak­istan. It has an eco­nomic stran­gle­hold around Nepal and re­acts if it tries to im­prove the eco­nomic ties with China or Pak­istan.

The idea of SAARC can­not flour­ish in such an environment. The or­ga­ni­za­tion was formed in 1985 and it is so far lim­ited to ex­changes of a few videos amongst the state-owned tele­vi­sion cor­po­ra­tions. Ex­changes of del­e­ga­tions serve more like tourist trips for the con­cerned in­di­vid­u­als than any­thing else and cul­tural ex­change pro­grams take place once in a new moon. This is not how re­gional co­op­er­a­tion can be achieved.

Pak­istan can take a step for­ward to­wards achiev­ing peace in the SAARC re­gion by giv­ing In­dia the Most Fa­vored Na­tion sta­tus, which is a long over-due step. It is not go­ing to wreak havoc in the coun­try’s econ­omy but in fact may ben­e­fit the con­sumers in both In­dia and Pak­istan.

It is high time that South Asian pol­icy-mak­ers go be­yond sym­bol­ism and take prac­ti­cal steps to help the re­gion that re­mains one of the poor­est in the world. The writer is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and a mem­ber of the Washington, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has au­thored sev­eral books.

By Anees Jil­lani

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