For the second year in a row, there may be no Saarc summit. India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan had pulled out of the 2016 Saarc summit citing Pakistan’s open support to terror. Saarc summits are generally held in November.
For the second year in a row, there may be no Saarc summit. India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan had pulled out of the 2016 Saarc summit citing Pakistan’s open support to terror that impacted all three countries. Islamabad was supposed to host the 2016 summit, which had to be cancelled. This year too, there appears to be no move to hold the summit. Saarc summits are generally held in November.
As Sushma Swaraj met Saarc foreign ministers in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, India’s disinterest in the summit was evident, which has resulted in a downgrading of the institution where India plays the lead role. With India-Pakistan bilateral relations in free-fall, it has had an impact on the South Asian body.
Swaraj did not refer to the uncertainties of the Saarc summit, but stressed the primacy given to removal of terrorism. “Regional prosperity, connectivity and cooperation can take place only in an atmosphere of peace and security. It, however, remains at serious risk in the region… It is necessary for our region’s survival that we eliminate the scourge of terrorism in all its forms, without any discrimination, and end the ecosystem of its support,” she said.
Swaraj added that Saarc had failed to live up to its objectives, without a free trade system in place, or any agreement on trade in services etc, which actually makes South Asia one of the least connected regions in the world. She listed the projects undertaken by India under the Saarc rubric. She said, “The South Asia Satellite, a first-of-its- kind initiative, was launched in May 2017. The project will touch the lives of the people in the region through its wide-ranging applications.”
In stead, India has breathed new energy into BIMSTEC, by involving almost all South Asian nations in it, with the conspicuous absence of Pakistan, making it virtually a ‘Saarc-minus-one’ organisation. In addition, the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) sub-grouping is making physical connectivity, along with rail and power-sharing systems, into a new model of cooperation.
Sources said Nepal, which currently holds the Saarc chair, is working on some initiatives so that a summit can be realised in 2018. The problem is, next year is when Pakistan is supposed to go in for general elections, which might make it difficult.
But India will continue to emphasise terrorism from Pakistan as a hurdle to Saarc and global peace and security. At the UNGA this week, India flagged the terrorism issue repeatedly in its interactions and public statements. To the BRICS foreign ministers, Sushma Swaraj said, “Terror groups continue to draw sustenance from support systems, including those based in South Asia. They continue to find support and shelter in countries which use terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Countering terrorism must not be a matter of political convenience.”
” The reference to counter terrorism has been a common thread in almost all the statements from the multilateral meetings Swaraj attended in the last three days,” ministry of external affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said. The India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) group’s ministerial meeting, presided over by Swaraj, called for “comprehensive and determined international action”, including “the early conclusion and adoption of the CCIT (comprehensive convention on international terrorism) to address the menace”.
This sentiment was carried through India’s reply to the Pakistan PM’s statement at the UNGA and will also feature in Swaraj’s remarks to the assembly.