Cancellation of the SAARC Summit: Has India Succeeded in Isolating Pakistan Regionally?

India’s announcement that it will not participate in the forthcoming 19th SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad did not come as a surprise. There was already a rethink afoot on India’s participation after the shabby treatment meted out to Home Minister Rajnath Singh during his visit to Islamabad to attend the SAARC Home Ministers’ meeting. Unlike during past conventions, the Pakistan media blacked out the speech that Singh delivered at the meeting. India contemplating the decision of not participating was reinforced when Vikas Swarup, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, countered Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale’s remarks in Karachi that “as of today Prime Minister Modi is looking forward to visiting Islamabad for the SAARC summit.”
Bilateral Issue or Regional Consensus?
Unlike in the past when SAARC summits have been postponed due to one member state’s decision not to attend the summit, this time India is not alone. Three other member states – Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh – have decided not to attend the summit in Islamabad and have conveyed their decisions to the current SAARC chair Nepal.
The reaction of each of these countries and their frustration with Pakistan has given rise to a new regional consensus that state sponsored terrorism cannot be dealt with only at the bilateral level. Bangladesh cited the lack of a congenial atmosphere and interference in its internal affairs by “one country” as the reason, while also firmly stating that it is its own decision not to attend the summit. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement which read – “uncalled for reactions after the execution of war criminals in Bangladesh that amount to direct interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, which is totally unacceptable” – as the reason for Bangladesh’s abstention.

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Speculation swirl on likely meeting between India, Pakistan PMs

Amid speculation about a possible meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Kathmandu, Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has said that Islamabad desires peace with New Delhi and underlined that the two neighbours can resolve their disputes through dialogue and negotiations.

“Pakistan desires peace with India but its desire should not be taken as its weakness,” Asif said in Islamabad. Mr Asif stressed that soon after assuming office, Mr Sharif had expressed his desire for peace with India and has repeated his intention to build bridges with India many a time in the last few months. “This desire has been misconceived by the other side,” he said.
n Kathmandu, speculation continued to swirl about a meeting between Mr Modi and Mr Sharif on the sidelines of the SAARC summit, with both sides maintaining studied ambivalence on the issue. Both Mr Modi and Mr Sharif arrived in Kathmandu November 25 for the 18th SAARC summit, but there is no indication yet whether they will meet to defrost tensions and map the way forward for the troubled India-Pakistan relations that have plunged to a new look following unrelenting firing by border troops and Pakistan’s determined diplomatic offensive to internationalise the Kashmir issue.

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