SAARC without Pakistan

Published: 29th September 2016 02:28 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th September 2016 02:28 PM   |  A+A-

Hopefully, India’s decision to pull out  the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meeting this year will be a nail in the regional body’s coffin. Ever since it was launched in Dhaka with its first meeting  in 1985, the platform has been hijacked by the India-Pakistan rivalry. Even the good things that the group comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (Afghanistan joined in 2007) did were always  overshadowed by Pakistan’s attempts to stymie any Indian effort. In other words, it was a multilateral platform with a bilateral agenda.

The constant tensions between India and  Pakistan was the only issue that mattered at the annual meetings, and everything else paled into insignificance. Given Pakistan’s intransigence against any Indian initiative, the grouping  never really achieved more than rhetoric. To take just one case, soon after his swearing in, Prime Minister  Narendra Modi offered to build a SAARC Satellite, a gift from India which would serve all the countries of the group. Pakistan was the only country that declined.  Eventually, India decided to go ahead with the project, saying that “Pakistan has  decided to opt-out of the satellite project. So it cannot be called a SAARC satellite. It will be a South Asia satellite”. The fact, that  Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan quickly followed India’s lead in boycotting the Islamabad summit citing security concerns  is a clear indication of how exasperated the members have become with Pakistan’s  attempts to dilute the group’s attempts to promote regional cooperation.   

When Pakistan nixed attempts to sign a  treaty which would ease train and road transshipment among member nations in 2014, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal went ahead and signed a separate treaty,  much to Islamabad’s chagrin. While critics might argue that dropping Pakistan from the group would add to its victimhood  narrative, the region can certainly do with without Pakistan’s shenanigans.


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