SAARC Summit: A Challenge

By:Rambhakta Thakur

Two years ago, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), concluded a happy ending in its 18th Summit in Kathmandu, and opened a new door for the 19th Summit to be held in Islamabad this year on 9-10 November.

But just a few days ago, in mid September, terrorist attacks in Kashmir spoiled the festivity mood of SAARC.

The invitations were already distributed to the region’s capitals and the sudden decision of India not to take part in the summit followed by four more members Bhutan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka with their inability to attend, compelled Pakistan to postpone the Summit.

The Indian position came very strongly against the summit following the killings of its 18 security personnel in Uri, Kashmir in mid September.

There were a series of attacks in Kashmir from the Pakistani border and the situation in Kashmir has become unprecedentedly serious. Curfew was imposed bringing fear to the local people. There was tremendous pressure on Indian Prime Minister Modi to retaliate and take action against the perpetrators.

Since its very inception, SAARC aimed to bring economic development, better life, trade and prosperity in the region mainly bonded by the socio-economic development of the member states.   Discussion on bilateral conflicts were not envisaged.

The reason was clear, India and Pakistan were seen as rivals in the international forum who fought many wars. Therefore, in the SAARC Charter, there is a binding clause to avoid bilateral conflicts discussions .

Similarly after an interval of four years of the 2002 Kathmandu summit, the Pakistani President was not permitted to fly over Indian territory and he had to fly over China to attend the summit.

Uncertainty and tension were at a climax. We still remember the dramatic hand shake of President Parvez Musarraf with Indian PM Atal Bihari Bajpayee.

In this challenging situation, when public pressure was at a high level, certainly it was very difficult for India to resist and take peaceful action for an amicable settlement.

Addressing the UN, the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had condemned the Pakistan supported terrorist attack in Kashmir. India is also trying to isolate Pakistan in the international community with an embargo on technology transfer and trade because Pakistan is threatening to use its small nuclear arms to retaliate.

In this situation of mounting pressure of the citizens, PM Modi has clearly given a stern warning to Pakistan, while addressing a mass in Kerala few days ago.

PM Modi has decided not to attend the summit.

Therefore, the situation became very grave that may turn into a fierce war if restraint from both sides are not observed. India seems to be showing precautionary calculative moves   because she is an aspirant for a permanent member of the Security Council of the UN ,and any excess use of arms may damage her international peaceful image.

At this juncture, when the summit is postponed by the host country Pakistan , a million dollar question arises, now what is the role of Nepal to be played as a chairman in this context?.

Nepal must take initiatives to pacify the situation by sending its Foreign Minister to convey the message of Nepal with sincerity that SAARC is not a platform of bilateral conflict discussion for which they have already agreed from the very beginning.

SAARC Charter in the article 5 clearly envisaged that members agree for peaceful settlement of disputes, non use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of other states.

They also reiterated that the United Nations considered the most important forum for the solution of all issues affecting international peace and security. Thus, it is not appropriate that any country take nuclear action or go to war and for that reason discard the summit.

It is a platform which provides a chance to meet again and think about the future course of action. War can never be a solution for any differences and injustice. Let diplomacy have a chance to reexamine and statesmanship prevailing from both sides. Going to war and neglecting our own association will harm only us.

In the eighteenth SAARC Summit all member states agreed not to make any hindrance when the date is fixed for the summit. The whole purpose of SAARC will be defeated if war takes place between India and Pakistan.

Let SAARC develop a mechanism to create a cushion when such a terrible situation arises. Let diplomatic and political mechanism work immediately to resolve the deteriorating situation. We must show our wisdom, diplomatic skill and friendship to hold the SAARC summit on time.

It is possible provided that we are serious and send a capable team to handle it. With right action Nepal may prove its diplomatic skill and narrow down the differences for the purpose of the SAARC Summit.

Nepal should not look at it like a spectator. She has the role to resolve the crisis.

Finally, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Nepal must take action urgently with wisdom and send a capable team to visit India- Pakistan to convince them for the existence of SAARC.

If we fail to resolve this India -Pakistan conflict then the very existence of SAARC itself may be questioned. After all, what is the use of SAARC in the cold war situation of these two rivals?

Dr Thakur is former ambassador to Egypt

(The Himalayan Times)