Addu Summit — A turning point for Saarc?
THE NEWS, 22-11-2011
The Saarc Summit held at Addu, Maldives on 11th of this month, witnessed a different aura all together as it ultimately proved that it can be vibrant as well as action oriented for the member states. This was a big change from the previous ones that every time offered diplomatic opportunities to both India and Pakistan to talk out their grievance but for huge trust deficit, they never really took off.
The utility of 26-years old Saarc forum for predominant engagement between the two South Asian nuclear neighbours always kept other members of the Organization wondering whether the Organization would ever deliver on collectivity. We had two prime ministers from amongst the Saarc members who while addressing the gathering directly or indirectly implored both India and Pakistan to shun their differences to forge a better future for South Asian region.
Maldivian president was direct in his request to both the prime ministers whereas Sri-Lankan President Rajapakse did not make a direct reference but implied the same concern.
What had brought the two countries talk to each other in a meaningful way this time using the Saarc platform, needs to be analysed. The Indian foreign minister while en route to Maldives declared that the trust deficit between the two nations had shrunk. That followed suit from Pakistan’s foreign minister who seemed to be rather quite satisfied. Then we saw an hour-long meeting between the two prime ministers and if the body language had to say something, it for sure reflected a degree of conviction in both the prime ministers in carrying the bilateral relationship forward. The two major dynamics that brought the two countries to this level of amity may have had its roots in two recent major developments. First the granting of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN)) status to India and the second was Istanbul Conference. The status of the MFN was long sought by India and now there is a likelihood that India would not resist Pakistan’s bid to avail concessions authorized by the European Union. India would like to exploit this facility and work for direct land access to Afghanistan through Pakistan, a facility that Pakistan always denied to India.
The other dynamics that may have made India to seek amity with Pakistan was a joint stand by Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan at the Istanbul Conference that did not support presence of American boots in Afghanistan beyond 2014. America intends maintaining at least five major military bases in Afghanistan along with twenty-five thousand plus Special Forces after 2014 in the name of supporting Afghan developmental processes. India did not join these four major regional players in objecting to the presence of Americans in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
At SCO meeting in St. Petersburg about a week earlier, the Russian overtures towards Pakistan wherein it committed half a billion dollars aid for CASA-1000 besides offering help and assistance in other major projects gave a message to India that Russia is opening out to Pakistan as well.
Earlier In a strange move India announced raising a new military corps. comprising four combat divisions with support troops. These troops numbering over one hundred thousand would be deployed in areas bordering China. The move was apparently made to appease Americans. The nuclear deal with America has thus far not worked out according to Indian wishes and loopholes remain. This announcement of placement of Indian troops along the border with China was apparently mistimed and out of step with the strategy of major regional countries.
India has pulled out of Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline at the behest of United States in towing latter’s policies to isolate Iran. India is increasingly aligning itself with the Americans in a bid to be counted as a major regional player especially in the context of Asia Pacific and thinks that it will get greater dividends by operating from American platform rather than doing it from the platform of Saarc or even the SCO. In the face of new developments in the region and Afghanistan, India may have felt losing out on its regional standings wherein it may find itself isolated in its own region.
The salience of the Addu Summit was drawing up of a time line to firm up a frame work for sea and rail connectivity. Emphasis was also laid on effective implementation of the free trade agreement between the member states, elimination of non-trade barriers, harmonisation of standards and customs procedures and paring of the sensitive lists. Failing on these already agreed issues has limited Saarc trade to only 10 percent of its actual potential.
The other salience where apparently progressed has been made was the atmospheric improvement between two key Saarc members, India and Pakistan that paved the way for possible result oriented future bilateral dialogue on Kashmir, Siachen, water issues and Sir Creek. Prime Minister Gilani while meeting his Indian counterpart extended an invitation to the latter to visit Pakistan however, to douse Indian opposition’s fire on development of relations with Pakistan, made it conditional on the eradication of terror networks from Pakistan before he could under take the visit.
Our prime minister had a meeting with Afghan president also wherein the latter agreed to resume trilateral dialogue with Iran and Pakistan. As per reports the Afghan president’s attitude during the meeting did not reflect his statesmanship as he persisted with his routine accusations on Pakistan for whatever wrong that takes place in his beleaguered state. This attitude only aids American designs for his own country, citizenry of which wants the foreigners to immediately quit their lands. The recent set backs in Afghanistan must not impede the development of bilateral relationship and both countries would do good by not accusing each other for failures in Afghanistan.