Rest in peace SAARC: The tug of war between India and Pakistan

Published: August 6, 2016
A group photo after SAARC meeting in Islamabad. PHOTO: PID

A group photo after SAARC meeting in Islamabad. PHOTO: PID

Newspapers published yesterday were filled with stories on the recent exchange of harsh words between the interior ministers of both India and Pakistan. The aftermath of which resulted in the Indian dignitary neither attending the lunch hosted by Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif nor staying overnight as planned.

India’s home minister arrives in Islamabad to attend SAARC meeting

It all started on Thursday, when Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was receiving his counterparts as the chair of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s (SAARC) meeting. The Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh did not even properly shake hands with his host. For both nuclear-armed rivals and neighbours, the 19th SAARC ministerial meeting became a pretext to vent their anger. The summit fell prey to India’s desire to brand Kashmir’s freedom struggle as terrorism while alleging Pakistan to be a terror sponsor.

From Delhi’s perspective, Prime Minister’s tribute to Burhan Wani for his ultimate sacrifice was offensive. “Terrorists should not be glorified as martyrs. There is no good or bad terrorism. Terrorism is terrorism,” said Singh in his speech. Khan duly responded back while relinquishing the chairman’s seat, even though the two were not scheduled for a one-on-one summit. “We also need to look at the genesis of terrorism, and resolution of unresolved disputes is the only way ahead to address these deep fissures that have evolved over decades,” said Khan. “I need not mention the whole incident because the essence of multilateralism should be respected here,” he added. But none of the ministers from other SAARC member-states were surprised. The organisation has remained hostage to India-Pakistan rivalry.

When the first formal proposal was made to create South Asian union by Bangladesh in 1981, both India and Pakistan responded sceptically. It was not until December 1985, when the agreement was received and SAARC, with seven-nation members, was formed with a charter that all decisions will be based on unanimity, and Article X(2) specifically excluded bilateral and contentious issues from the ambit. As a result, acrimonious issues such as Jammu and Kashmir, Sir Creek, water sharing disputes or India-Bangladesh border relations do not fall under the ambit of SAARC.

The forum only became politically charged when discussion on subjects including terrorism were brought on the table, owing to a lack of proper definition of its ‘unanimously agreed decisions’. However, three decades later, SAARC has considerate success to boast with its institutions and forums for summit-level political meetings and technical-level multilateral interactions. In fact, India’s free regional trade ambition got a boost with Afghanistan’s membership, which was pushed for by the Unites States (US).

Saarc conference: Indian home minister lands in Islamabad amid protests

During former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani’s tenure, Pakistan Peoples Party government also considered linking M2 motorway to Wagha border and extending M1 to Torkham border. But the hostile policies of Hamid Karzai’s government and no improvements in Pakistan-India composite dialogue in bilateral relations resulted in halting the progress. Besides, India’s most favoured nation status as per SAARC charter poses issues of transit trade, as it has bilateral implications equal to that of multilateral ones.

Today while maintaining fresh regional alignments and geo political realities, idealism regarding the SAARC has lost steam. With Beijing’s US$45 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Islamabad is clearly not interested in trade with Delhi especially without significant progress on outstanding issues and renewed hostility by the BJP-led government. Islamabad is also focusing on ties with Central Asia and the Middle East. India too has taken a different route to pursue its regional interests. Delhi has upgraded its ties with Tehran and aspires to reach out to Afghanistan and Central Asia through Iran’s Chabahar port.

For Afghanistan, bilateral relations with Pakistan are the key for its beneficial subscription of the organisation. But Ghani-Abdullah regime has not been aiming to utilise the advantages healthy relations with Pakistan can bring. Instead, they have been conducting diplomacy through media. Kabul has largely acted as Delhi’s loudspeaker, regardless of the ground realities and its enormous dependence on Islamabad.

India sticks to no bilateral meetings at SAARC huddle

US’s efforts, on the other hand, have also lost significant leverage, owing to its deteriorating relations with Pakistan. While it is pressing the country to act as a bridge between India and Afghanistan on the SAARC platform, the US policies towards Pakistan are contrary to its ambitions.

To sum it up, the heydays of SAARC optimism are over. Neither Pakistan nor India are interested in the bloc. Afghanistan is the only key political and diplomatic concern for both the countries, which is why, even for an assortment of less explosive issues, the South Asian association will at best remain a forum for multilateral conferences.

Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360

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Reader Comments (27)

  • point
    Aug 6, 2016 - 12:16PM

    india is simply unable to face realities. Calling 95% Kashmiris for independence as an act of Pakistani funding to every person in Kashmir is ridiculous!!Recommend

  • Yourown
    Aug 6, 2016 - 2:32PM

    We are the only “innocent” ones around!!! Wish the author could have talked about the ‘political compulsions’ of the prime minister and the timing of this rattling. Recommend

  • jun
    Aug 6, 2016 - 4:14PM

    What is this Saarc for?Photos and to take out foreign policy catharsis accumulated?Finish this Saarc since it produces no result.These politicians are of no use if they can not negotiate out the problems.Rather watching their long faces,we rather watch some sport-losers of Olympic gamesRecommend

  • M. Emad
    Aug 6, 2016 - 4:16PM

    Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzman Khan already boycotted the Islamabad SAARC Home Ministers Meeting.Recommend

  • OSD
    Aug 6, 2016 - 5:12PM

    the india-pakistan relationship is dead as long as the bjp is in power. it has a hindu nationalist agenda and will stop at nothing to damage pakistan. while it is important for pakistan to remain attentive and pay lip service to indo-pak relations, we must push ahead with economic and political stability at all cost. this idea of peace cannot be pursued simultaneously. india is not a trustworthy nation and has malevolent intentions.Recommend

  • ali
    Aug 6, 2016 - 6:08PM

    @M. Emad:
    he was going to saudi arabia to talk about bangli poor stucked there.Recommend

  • Pakistan
    Aug 6, 2016 - 7:32PM

    Why is this Bharati Minister in the picture? He is not hosting this SAARC moot!Recommend

  • Aug 6, 2016 - 7:58PM

    Indian interior minister does not like to receive respect this is why he tried to sabotage a peaceful conference by his hateful sarcasm.Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav
    Aug 7, 2016 - 1:42AM

    I think SAARC should leave out “Middle Eastern” country of Pakistan. Pakistan is an obstacle and part of problem.Recommend

  • Polpot
    Aug 7, 2016 - 2:12AM

    Look at the expressions on Rajnath and Nisar’s faces. They are ready to pull the trigger at each other.Recommend

  • Reality
    Aug 7, 2016 - 2:39AM

    There is no need for SAARC. India should have another similar union without Pakistan. Saarc is not the forum for Pakistan to keep raising Kashmir. India can focus on development without Pakistan but include all others. Kashmir is dead and Pakistan is obcessed, it clearly knows it cannot grab by force, but rather has been feeding the militants with both monetary rewards and arms, as simple as it.Recommend

  • Super Reality
    Aug 7, 2016 - 3:18AM

    SAARC is not the forum where India needs to take jibe at Pakistan. They cry in front of USA, in UN and in front of everyone alive in the world. Now they have brought their crying to SAARC forum where bilateral issues are not allowed to discuss. Pakistan retaliated in response which bad tempered Rajnath didn’t like. Don’t expect handkerchief to be handed out to wipe your tears, Mind you.@Reality: Recommend

  • zahid
    Aug 7, 2016 - 4:09AM

    The much respected American President Lyndon Johnson once said that liberals and conservatives are both useless at getting things done. They are both paralyzed by their extreme opinions. In other words my way or the highway. With Rajnath Sahib I’ll try to be fair in my opinion. I can see that Nisar made a good point to rebut him but Rajnath followed true to his leader’s footsteps. Modi I remember walking out of an interview with a British commentator when he asked him probing questions. Why send these useless entities to negotiate when you know nothing will get done. In his egoistical walkout he also missed out on a fine lunch. I don’t which I would lament more.Recommend

  • Ajay
    Aug 7, 2016 - 4:21AM

    Pakistan is obsessed with Kashmir. The lust for the land and the extreme jealousy of seeing India gain importance and recognition in World has blinded it’s wisdom. It’s out on self destruction mode. On the one hand it played with fire when it became the sponsor of terrorism in India and later by using the mujahideens against Afhanistan. It’s dream of playing a regional Chaudhary by hook or by crook has backfired in getting more and more isolation in international forums. Today no foreign country is willing to invest in Pakistan except China. China is using Pakistan to counter India. Pakistan seems to have reduced itself to be used as other Countries pawn, first by USA now by China. Pakistan is lacking in the honesty, will and desire to develop its economy and live in cooperation with its neighbours. It’s philosophy of misusing religion to gain prominence as an Islamic power is the basic cause of its flawed policies.Recommend

  • Khilari
    Aug 7, 2016 - 5:52AM

    Don’t offend the host if you don’t want to hear the truth. Keep your hotheadedness at home but you Indians will never learn.@Ajay: Recommend

  • zahid
    Aug 7, 2016 - 6:10AM

    Please wakeup. This 20 year old rambling has been defunct for a long time. No one is jealous no one really cares. And before you think I hate Indians most of my close friends are Indians and we never bicker on these childish talks.Recommend

  • Mustafa Kashmiri
    Aug 7, 2016 - 6:33AM

    @ Ajay…spot on…couldn’t be clearer than this.Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Aug 7, 2016 - 7:40AM

    It is time to introspect. It is not that SAARC is dead, it is Pakistan who’s voice and policies are dead in this group. SAARC is thriving and so is business within its members. SAARC will soon have its own independent satellite in space for the benefit of humanity of the region … wait and watch. Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Aug 7, 2016 - 8:02AM

    Since most of the pakistanis claim to be descendant of glorious and martial arab muslim conqueror of Hindustan, they should not even be a part of SAARC. Recommend

  • Nikki
    Aug 7, 2016 - 8:25AM

    Cold War…both nuclear power

    India cannot establish its Policeman ship ,must I say.

    Thank you Nuke Makers of Pakistan.You all knew that India could be only stopped via tit for tatRecommend

  • Ajeet
    Aug 7, 2016 - 8:43AM

    Pakistan should be moved near to North Korea. Recommend

  • truthbetold
    Aug 7, 2016 - 9:07AM

    @Kulbhushan Yadav:

    “I think SAARC should leave out “Middle Eastern” country of Pakistan. Pakistan is an obstacle and part of problem.”

    That’s it. India should form a new regional grouping sans Pakistan. SAARC with Pakistan in it is a useless organization. Pakistan can then form its own organization or become part of the Arab grouping that they long for. Good riddance.Recommend

  • Rana
    Aug 7, 2016 - 1:40PM

    @point: You got your figure wrong.What happened to the near 70% Kashmiri Hindu,Sikhs,Buddhist,shia,Moderate Sunni population ,are they interested in this so called freedom movement. Btw these are the people most literate and prosperous in Kashmir.They don’t care about this religious division.Recommend

  • Rana
    Aug 7, 2016 - 1:45PM

    @zahid: Is it really defunct.then what is with JeM,Let,JuD. Are they not your state or non state actors. Ohhh..for you all countries even UN is wrong and it is conspiracy against Pakistan.Recommend

  • Ashfaq
    Aug 7, 2016 - 1:55PM

    Both countries leaders and establishments are playing with the nations. No one really wants to resolve the issues just for their personal benefits. Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    Aug 7, 2016 - 2:14PM

    First the host should learn to hostRecommend

  • Ramdar
    Aug 8, 2016 - 2:47AM

    The host was offended when Rajnath criticised supporters of terrorism (without naming Pakistan).Then host spoke of human rights, forgetting about Baluchistan.Recommend

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