Pakistan’s U-turn can invigorate SAARC

Shaukat Aziz promises not to raise bilateral issues at the multilateral forum

Many quarters in the subcontinent perceive SAARC as a vehicle for “collective bargaining” against India. But South Asia’s only regional grouping failed to achieve even this cynical objective due to Pakistan’s insistence on using it to push its foreign policy objective of ‘internationalising’ the Kashmir dispute. India was not impressed, and the other member-states were not particularly enthused. SAARC was turning out to be nothing more than a long acronym.

So when Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz announced in Nepal that Pakistan would not drop its absurd demand on discussing bilateral issues within the SAARC issue, it came as a breath of fresh air for the regional grouping. Hopes for SAARC’s revival now rest on member-states showing greater commitment in pushing regional free-trade, environment and security issues. They also rest on Shaukat Aziz having received prior permission from his boss-in-uniform on executing this U-turn.

Indeed, if Pakistan’s apparent change of heart is for real, then SAARC would be a beneficiary of the dividends of the India-Pakistan peace process. Other member-states would do well to realise that they may now need to gang up on Pakistan to hold it to its prime minister’s word because it is they, more than India, who benefit most from this peace dividend.