KATHMANDU: No eye contact between the leaders of India and Pakistan at a summit that was supposed to toast regional solidarity and take small but significant steps towards regional integration. In the end, it was Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani to speak some home truths. Making his debut at the SAARC summit, Mr Ghani made it clear that he would not allow his country to become a battleground of a proxy war as he warned against the dangers posed by non-state actors trying to usurp the agenda –- a none-too-veiled reference to Pakistan’s alleged sponsorship of terror outfits.
“We will not allow our territory to be used against any of our neighbours. But we will not permit anybody to conduct proxy wars on our soil either,” he told the leaders of South Asian countries gathered in the City Hall on a sunny day in the heart of Kathmandu.
He did not mention Pakistan by name, but everybody knew who he was pointing finger at when he underlined that the state sponsorship of non-state actors could have damaging effects. “It should be clear that such measures have blowback effects, destabilising the state system,” Mr Ghani said. He also made it clear that his country, which is on the cusp of a transformational journey as foreign combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan this year, will not provide sanctuaries for terror groups.
India has repeatedly called for dismantling of sanctuaries of terror, but all its pleas and warnings have fallen on deaf years with Pakistan’s ambitious military establishment eyeing its opportunity to fill the vacuum after the drawdown of foreign combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014 and beyond.
Forging collective regional efforts to combat terrorism figured prominently at the leaders’ meeting at the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu, but without a convincing blueprint form action. In his speech, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored that a prosperous South Asia is contingent on providing security to its 1.5 billion citizens and called for renewing the pledge to combat terrorism collectively.
On his part, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke about fighting poverty, rather than addressing terror. “My vision for our region is a dispute free South Asia where instead of fighting each other we jointly fight poverty, illiteracy, disease, malnourishment and unemployment,” said Mr Sharif. In so far as feel-good rhetoric goes, these platitudes are fine, but it’s time for the SAARC to move beyond mere declaration and deliver security and prosperity to its millions of the deprived and the downtrodden across the region.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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