In the wake of the Uri terror strike, India announced its decision not to participate in the SAARC summit which was supposed to be held in Pakistan in November this year. All other SAARC nations followed suit, and decided to boycott the summit. Distressed by this marginalisation and mainly due to India’s increasing influence in the SAARC, Pakistan is now playing with the idea of a greater SAARC. According to a recent report in the Dawn newspaper, Pakistan is looking at the possibility of a “bigger SAARC” to check India’s increasing dominance in the eight-member forum.
According to the report, “Pakistan has pitched the idea of a greater South Asian economic alliance, one that includes China, Iran, and some neighboring Central Asian countries”. A parliamentary delegation from Pakistan during its five-day visit to Washington last week pitched this idea, the report said. “A greater South Asia is already emerging,” Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed was quoted as saying in one of his interactions with the media. “This greater South Asia includes China,Iran, and the neighboring Central Asian republics,” he said. He described the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as the key economic route linking South Asia with Central Asia.
For sometime, Pakistan has been pitching for including China as a member of SAARC to check India’s growing influence in the region. But with the latest face-off with India, Pakistan is pitching for a new arrangement which will include China and other central Asian countries. Pakistan is highlighting the CPEC as a vital connecting point between South Asia and Central Asia to influence the SAARC countries to join it in the formation of a greater South Asian alliance. Pakistan is hoping that this new regional arrangement will give it some space to maneuver as and when India tries to force its decisions.
Pakistan is also courting Afghanistan to join this putative grouping. But experts believe that given the fact that Afghanistan is an SAARCmember and have close ties with India, it is not likely to enter into any arrangements that hurt India.
Is Greater SAARC feasible?
This new regional arrangement planned by Pakistan looks like an act of grandstanding and is not feasible unless Pakistan mends its ways and stop terrorist activities. The members of the greater SAARC which Pakistan is talking about will pressurize it in the same way India did and will talk against terrorism. In such a scenario no such alliance is feasible till Pakistan destroys the terror camps on its soil. As for India, it has other options besides SAARC and is strengthening other regional cooperation forums which exclude Pakistan to further corner it. Also, other members of regional forums support India over its concerns on terrorism, which indirectly means they will put pressure on Pakistan whenever there is a terror attack on the Indian soil.
(Zainab Akhter contributed inputs for this article)
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