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Regional cooperation

Updated January 13, 2019

Email

Revive Saarc: the message is clear, sensible and ought to be heeded.

The foreign minister of Nepal, Pradip Gyawali, has called on India to revive the Saarc heads of state summit, the last round of which was to be hosted by Pakistan in 2016 but was cancelled after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to travel to Pakistan and New Delhi leaned on other Saarc members to boycott the summit.

Meanwhile, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has also added his voice to calls for the revival of Saarc and has spoken of the need for India and Pakistan to work together to reactivate the moribund organisation.

Mr Gyawali and Mr Karzai are right: Saarc needs to be revived and the multilateral forum should not be held hostage to bilateral tensions.

Indeed, Saarc could be a platform to address the very problems that India has wanted addressed by Pakistan, and Pakistan wants India to address.

It is striking that the smaller countries in Saarc are now openly recognising what has long been apparent: it is the countries of the region collectively that lose when dialogue and cooperation is suspended.

With a general election in India scheduled for later this year, there is a small window of opportunity before the Indian government goes into election mode and policy decisions are suspended.

There is no indication that Mr Modi and his government are seeking to reassess their approach to Pakistan ahead of a general election that could be closer than was expected until relatively recently.

But in seeking a second consecutive general election victory, Mr Modi and his team ought to recognise that the cycles of domestic politics and international relations are different and ought to be addressed separately.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and the military leadership in Pakistan have continued to express a desire for dialogue with India on mutually acceptable terms.

A generational shift may be imminent in Afghanistan and Pakistan and India could have pragmatic talks with Afghanistan on helping craft a stable and peaceful region.

India’s Kashmir policy has been disastrous and dialogue remains the only sensible path ahead.

Instead of blocking all avenues for dialogue, India should pay heed to what its regional friends and allies are telling it.

Revive Saarc, engage Pakistan, address regional security and economic issues, and move towards a more prosperous and peaceful region for all.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2019

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