With little chance of a summit of South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) again this year after last year’s meeting was cancelled on India pulling out of the summit scheduled to take place in Islamabad (following the Uri terror attacks) and others following suit, the regional grouping is evidently in danger of withering away.
This is unfortunate but with Pakistan abetting terror in Kashmir and India under Narendra Modi more assertive than ever, there was little hope for SAARC. As External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stated in her remarks in Pokhara, Nepal last year, “… our region accounts for merely 2 per cent of world trade, 1.7 per cent of world FDI (foreign direct investment), intra-regional trade being less than 6 per cent of our global trade and intra-regional FDI accounting for only 3 per cent of total FDI inflows,” there was little that has been achieved through this forum. In contrast, the share of intra-regional trade for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)—to which Saarc is often compared—is close to 25 per cent and intra-regional FDI accounts for 18 per cent of the net FDI inflows in the Asean region.
India made a feeble attempt to make SAARC minus one (Pakistan) relevant in May last when it successfully launched the South Asia Satellite, GSAT-9, into space which Prime Minister Narendra Modi called “a gift” to its South Asian neighbours to enable better coordination in a range of areas including banking, broadcasting, tele-medicine, weather forecasting and disaster relief but the Pakistani aloofness continued.
Owing to India’s problems with Pakistan, the seven-country grouping BIMSTEC, was being considered as an alternative to SAARC but there seems little enthusiasm for it. However, it can be energised and another grouping called BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) is also making some headway in physical connectivity with rail and power-sharing systems as a model of cooperation. It seems unlikely that SAARC would be revived unless Pakistan stops supporting terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir.
Ms Sushma Swaraj has had a series of meetings with her SAARC counterparts in New York where she is there for the UN General Assembly session but there is little traction for breathing new life into the grouping, given Pakistan’s attitude of continuing to fan terror in Kashmir. Consequently, India and the others are forced to look at other avenues of cooperation within South Asia in which Pakistan would not be a roadblock. So long as the army calls the shots in Pakistan, there can be little hope of durable peace.