In SAARC, Pakistan’s role is of naysayer

The intention is to deny India by being a naysayer

It is hard to be gung ho about the Saarc summit that concluded in Kathmandu on Thursday, although a framework agreement on energy cooperation, whose cause New Delhi had done much to advance, did see the light of day.

Initially it appeared that Pakistan would remain lukewarm to even this idea, but a sense of practical expectations of various Saarc nations prevailed in the end and their leaders, especially host Nepal, gently nudged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to relent.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had gone into his first Saarc gathering of principals propagating the hope that connectivity should be privileged in their understanding of bringing countries of the region closer economically.

This was crucial to gaining broader long-term acceptance of the notion of a South Asia Economic Union. This was not to be, alas.

Pakistan could not be budged. It took the plea that it was not ready internally for transport connectivity as its truck operators had to be brought around first for it to agree to a motor vehicles pact that would permit transport vehicles from Saarc countries to move back and forth.

How extraordinary that Islamabad should not come to the summit with prior preparations since the idea has been in circulation for some time.

Now host Nepal is to hold a conference of Saarc transport ministers with a view to bringing Pakistan around. But not many would bet on it in light of past experiences.

The plain fact is that Islamabad would be cool to the idea of transport roads and railway connectivity within Saarc as this would boost India’s engagement with Afghanistan, and give New Delhi intolerable leverage in Kabul which Islamabad has long seen as being detrimental to its own interest.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has done enough in Saarc over the years to remain on its periphery. The intention is to deny India by being a naysayer.

But India would be short sighted to let this drive it into Saarc pessimism. Positive unilateralism on New Delhi’s part in encouraging fellow Saarc economies to take the meaningful next step would be to the benefit of all, not least India itself as it is 70 per cent of Saarc in economic terms.

Mr Modi in Kathmandu offered that Indian communication satellites could be harnessed for Saarc. Such a step has a good ring about it.

On the bilateral plane, the leaders of India and Pakistan had remained aloof on the opening day of the summit but proceeded at the retreat to open pleasantries. This is the civilised way.

But it won’t do to raise expectations at this stage. There is much happening within Pakistan to claim PM Sharif’s attention.

( Source : dc )
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