Scoring points at SAARC’s expense

It is important for India’s neighbours to realise that keeping India interested in SAARC is to their advantage

Dr Manmohan Singh’s decision not to attend the SAARC summit in Dhaka has not gone down well in the neighbourhood. In Bangladesh for example, it has, like everything else, led to yet another round in the never-ending political football game between the ruling Bangladesh National Party and the Awami League.

But who better than Gen Musharraf to make hay when the sun is shining.

“If somebody does not want to attend, they should not, the others should attend — why should one country have the onus of postponing or scuttling the whole meeting,” Musharraf said. [Reuters]

Pakistan has been quick to use this opportunity to engage in some public diplomacy at India’s expense — by expressing its dissatisfaction over India’s reasons it has sought to make common cause with the Bangladeshi people, who are indignant at what they perceive as a snub. Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan’s prime minister, called King Gyanendra of Nepal to express solidarity with Musharraf’s new-found acolyte.

For good measure, Pakistan has decided to complain about India’s actions when Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, comes calling in a few days time. Unnamed American officials were roped in by ‘highly placed diplomatic sources’ to express displeasure at India thumbing its nose at an important regional organisation. So while Musharraf flaunts sovereign equality by suggesting that the SAARC summiteers carry on in India’s absence, he does not see pleading with Western powers as contradictory to that principle.

In its desire to go one-up on India, though, Pakistan is again risking the future of SAARC. For a long time, its insistence on bringing up Kashmir at the SAARC forum meant that India would naturally have little interest in the regional pow-wow. If not for Vajpayee’s decision to attend the Islamabad summit in 2004, SAARC would have been languishing at the bottom of the alphabet soup of defunct international organisations. While there is a strong case for India to engage international organisations like ASEAN, G-20 and G-7 to further its geo-political and economic interests, the relevance of SAARC is marginal. India’s neighbours, including Pakistan, gain nothing by alienating India to the point that it decides that SAARC is just too long an acronym after all.


Dhaka should have withdrawn its High Commission from New Delhi and demanded a compensation of 2 million USD. We should have sent a message that India can’t do whatever it wishes to do. [moodlogic]

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