The growing discontent and tension between India and Pakistan has cast a shadow on the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and appears set to have an increasingly detrimental effect if a truce isn’t brokered soon. Apart from India and Pakistan, SAARC includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives. However, Pakistan’s isolation from the grouping cannot be blamed on India or the other members as well. Pakistan’s record of violating protocols has brought it upon itself and the inaction on international terrorism proved to be the trigger.
After the recent terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, India pulled out of the SAARC summit that was slated to take place in Islamabad later this year. Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh aso pulled out of the forthcoming SAARC summit in an effort to diplomatically isolate Pakistan. Other members also expressed that the meet will be unthinkable without India.
For long, Pakistan has not paid heed to the SAARC protocols for better connectivity in the region for allowing better trade. It has blocked the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement and the SAARC Regional Railways Agreement.
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Bangladesh is no first witness to Pakistan-backed atrocities and neither is Afghanistan. Total inaction and silence from Pakistan along with blatant denial of cross-border terrorist attacks on Uri, even after India produced evidence, presents a denialist, uncommitted and escapist attitude.
Since the group was formed in 1985 in Bangladesh, India has worked closely with other members to held intra-regional growth and boost in bilateral and multilateral trade. Pakistan has failed to even acknowledge the need the follow the basic ideals of SAARC’s functioning. It has only contributed to reducing intra-regional trade, increasing geopolitical stress, destruction of infrastructure in India and Afghanistan, protests about increased cooperation between members and inability to act as fair trade partners as seen and raised by countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India. It has blocked any deal that seeks to improve India’s position in the region.
India-Pakistan relationships have mostly dominated negotiations in SAARC and with the current situation, it can only function with the presence of one member. India has chosen to opt out at the moment while other members choose not to stand with Pakistan.
Fully exploiting the potential of the eight-member grouping of SAARC may not be possible in the current security scenario. So, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has alternative plans. PM Modi has invited some leaders of some SAARC countries to India in Goa on the coming 14-15 October. On the 14th, the Prime Minister will hold a summit of BRICS countries–Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Leader like Michel Temer, Xi Jinping, Jacob Zuma and Vladimir Putin will descend on India. Later, if they attend, leaders from Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will meet PM Modi.
SAARC members like Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh joined India in pulling out of the meet to join India’s efforts for Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation that will now have an economic bearing as well.
Certain clauses in the SAARC charter allow sub-groupings to be formed between SAARC countries. That is what PM Modi appears to be mulling. There is a way to sidestep Pakistan in SAARC and the Indian government will want to continue pursuing to improve regional trade and economic cooperation to effectively strengthen its stand geopolitically.