Call to re­vive Saarc sum­mit

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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