In the midst of the expectation and excitement surrounding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to the USA during which he will address the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), attend the Quad leaders’ summit, and have extensive bilateral discussions with US President Joe Biden in a one-on-one, there is a dark lining to the silver cloud. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) foreign ministers’ meeting which was scheduled to be held on the side-lines of the UNGA session has been called off because Pakistan wanted the Taliban and not a representative of the elected government overthrown by the Islamic fundamentalists to represent Afghanistan at the meet. Undermined by India-Pakistan tensions, and unable to meaningfully scale up economic, political, and strategic engagement, the South Asian grouping, which had grandiose ambitions when it was first thought up in 1985, has been a non-starter for a while now.
The latest development, involving as it does its newest member Afghanistan which joined in 2007, perhaps underlines the fact that it may be time for the last rites to be performed for an association which while theoretically sensible was never going to achieve any traction because of sub-continental tensions. New Delhi’s calculation that it was better to have the camel in the tent spraying out has gone awry because the camel in this case, to stretch the metaphor, is doing its business within the confines of the tent.
The naivety of so-called peaceniks who have done more to legitimise the use of terror as an instrument of state policy by not standing up against extremism in the name of so-called South Asian solidarity, is now a clear and present danger for the developing, modern nation-states of the region which share a common civilisational heritage.
The results are there for all to see in the brazenness this approach has enabled ~ Islamabad had the gall to oppose the official representative of the deposed Afghan government attending the now cancelled SAARC meet and suggest a Taliban representative be invited instead even though Pakistan itself, forget the civilised world, is yet to recognise the regime in Kabul. The Kathmandu-based SAARC secretariat, therefore, had no choice but to call off the meeting in view of the “lack of consensus” among SAARC member-states.
Under Mr S Jaishankar, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has shown an ability to take tough calls and cut the flab of legacy issues where required. The time is fast approaching when New Delhi will need to quietly gather support among other SAARC states and work towards expelling Pakistan from the regional grouping for the sake of peace and prosperity in South Asia. This though is easier said than done, for it cannot be denied that some of the smaller member states trade on the rancour between New Delhi and Islamabad to extract more from the grouping’s largest member. So, if Pakistan doesn’t exit, India must prepare to do so. This farce must end.