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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