Call to revive Saarc summit
The last round of the Saarc heads of state summit was to be hosted by Pakistan in 2016. However, it was cancelled after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to travel to Pakistan and New Delhi leaned on other Saarc members to boycott the summit. Now Nepal foreign minister Pradip Gyawali has called on India to revive the summit.
In addition, Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan president has called for the revival of Saarc and has spoken of the need for India and Pakistan to work together to reactivate the moribund organisation.Mr Gyawali and Mr Karzai are right: Saarc needs to be revived and the multilateral forum should not be held hostage to bilateral tensions.
Indeed, Saarc could be a platform to address the very problems that India has wanted addressed by Pakistan, and Pakistan wants India to address. It is striking that the smaller countries in Saarc are now openly recognising what has long been apparent: it is the countries of the region collectively that lose when dialogue and cooperation is suspended.
With a general election in India scheduled for later this year, there is a small window of opportunity before the Indian government goes into election mode and policy decisions are suspended.
There is no indication that Mr Modi and his government are seeking to reassess their approach to Pakistan ahead of a general election that could be closer than was expected until relatively recently.
But in seeking a second consecutive general election victory, Mr Modi and his team ought to recognise that the cycles of domestic politics and international relations are different and ought to be addressed separately.
Prime Minister Imran Khan and the military leadership in Pakistan have continued to express a desire for dialogue with India on mutually acceptable terms.
A generational shift may be imminent in Afghanistan and Pakistan and India could have pragmatic talks with Afghanistan on helping craft a stable and peaceful region. India’s Kashmir policy has been disastrous and dialogue remains the only sensible path ahead.
India should pay heed to what its regional friends and allies are telling it instead of blocking all avenues for dialogue. So it should revive Saarc, engage Pakistan, address regional security and economic issues.