Wither SAARC

…regional grouping hostage to ‘K’ dispute

Dr. Javid Iqbal
Srinagar, Publish Date: Sep 18 2018 9:30PM | Updated Date: Sep 18 2018 9:30PM
Wither SAARCRepresentational Pic

SAARC—the regional grouping of South Asian nations is dwindling by the day. It remains hostage to ‘K’ dispute, a conflict which puts India and Pakistan on the opposing ends of regional geostrategic spectrum. The other South Asian countries in the grouping—Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, Afghanistan and Bhutan stay hampered regionally, given the hostility between India and Pakistan. Developing a regional perspective to the problems besetting the region is thus a casualty in the emerging scenario. The region holds 21 percent of global population with barely 3 percent of world’s area. The population exploding in a landmass much less than what it needs is increasingly facing shrinking of agricultural spaces, hence challenges to food security might be burgeoning future scenario. The regional answers to grave issues are missing, as problems multiply. SAARC stays deprived of the muscle needed to provide solutions. 

SAARC in its charter failed to provide a forum for seeking a regional solution to outstanding issues between member states. The charter in fact rules out addressing such issues. Paragraph 2 of Article X explicitly rules out addressing bilateral issues. It stands noted that, “Bilateral and contentious issues shall be excluded from the deliberations.” The proven fact however stands that non-resolution of disputes between member states of SAARC sets the alarm bells ringing, and stands as the major barrier between SAARC states combining to provide regional solutions to the problem. ‘K’ dispute stands out as the major factor upsetting SAARC. The latest impasse evident in the regional panorama is the multiplying hostility between India and Pakistan since 2016. The period relates to killing of Hizb commander—Burhan Wani, which provided a spurt to resistance in Kashmir. India names it cross-border terrorism, implicating Pakistan.  

SAARC summit in Pakistan slated for 2016 was postponed, as India launched a diplomatic campaign to isolate Pakistan regionally. It included an effort to push Pakistan to a corner globally on the issue of terrorism. US supplemented the effort largely, though for its own geostrategic reasons, mainly concerning Afghanistan. US however did share Indian concerns on what continues to be called call cross-border terrorism, putting in shade the predominant indigenous element. The indigenous element continues to push for peaceful resolution of ‘K’ dispute. The attendant violence is attributed to non-resolution of the dispute.  US push had Pakistan land in grey list of ‘Financial Action Task Force’ with a global watch on money laundering aiding and abetting terrorism. The push for isolation however did not have the desired impact. China, the emerging global power continues to cultivate Pakistan as a major partner in ‘Belt Road Initiative (BRI)’. ‘China Pakistan Economic Corridor’ stays as the most important limb of BRI. Russia as well is widening its relation with Pakistan. The Russian geostrategists like Andrew Korybko call Pakistan the zipper, a geostrategic location at cross-roads of South, Central and Western Asia. Chinese and Russians though are moved by global concerns, as India moves closer to US.

Regionally, Pak-isolation is not working to the extent India would like it to be. Nepal, where SAARC secretariat is located is pushing for holding the stalled SAARC summit, slated to be held in Pakistan in 2016. Sri Lanka is lending support. Maldives, presently in a state of strained relations with India supports the plea, as diplomatic exchanges with Pakistan enhance. Whatever support Pakistan manages regionally or globally cannot make SAARC work, unless India takes to it wholeheartedly. Pakistan might be strategically located to catch the eye of global players, it might indeed be the zipper, however India with its size—the continental proportions, home to more or less 1/6th of global population, an emerging global economy carries its own weight. The weight presently is being thrown to support ‘Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)’. It is a combine of South and South Asian states including Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. These are the countries with stakes in Bay of Bengal. It has Dhaka based secretariat. The latest BIMSTEC conference was held in last week of August, 2018, culminating in a summit meet. BIMSTEC is being projected as an alternative to SAARC, though geostrategic understanding makes it clear that South Asian concerns are not limited to geographical region related to Bay of Bengal. It might address concerns on India’s northeast, however India’s strategic concerns are related mainly to northwest of subcontinent. 

Indian Premier—Narendra Modi talked of an alternative to SAARC as early as 2014 in the Kathmandu summit by relating that, “The bonds will grow through SAARC or outside it, among us all or some of us.” The remark spelled the doom of South Asian organization.  Modi’s observation of bonds growing through SAARC or without it resulted from a multilateral agreement on connectivity getting held up because of Pakistani opposition. Islamabad had also tried to push China’s membership, much to India’s discomfort. China though is all over South Asia with its massive investments.  Pakistan relates multilateral agreement on connectivity to addressing its security concerns on the western front with Afghanistan and eastern front with India, while as India presses for trade and transit to Afghanistan. Barely day’s back, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister—Shah Mahmood Qureshi denied an American input that his country has conceded providing the corridor. The differences though wide could only be addressed by widening the scope of SAARC and smoothening the mechanism of resolving bilateral and multilateral disputes. If India and Pakistan can sit together on the same table in ‘Shanghai Cooperation Organization’ and hold joint military exercises in Ural mountains in Russia, why not in SAARAC?    


Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]




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