Both Pakistan and India are nuclear power, have fought various wars and constantly live in state of war ever since they got independence from British Raj in 1947. Economists are of the consensus that had the two countries lived like peaceful neighbors, abstained from spending billions of dollars annually on procurement of lethal arsenal and invested money on the development; these would have been the most prosperous economies of the world. It would not be wrong to say that the British Raj left a thorn, Kashmir, which has been constantly exploited by the United States. Let the readers keep one point in mind that Hindus have not accepted partition of subcontinent and openly say that they would not allow another partition of India on the basis of religion (apartheid of Kashmir).
As Indian delegates attended the Kartarpur corridor groundbreaking ceremony, Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj announced that India will not attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) conference if it is held in Pakistan. She brushed off any possibility of improvement in relations between India and Pakistan, despite the opening of the Kartarpur crossing. "Until and unless Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, there will be no dialogue and we will not participate in Saarc [conference]," asserted Swaraj. Owing to India's refusal to attend, Pakistan will not be able to convene the event for the third year now. Participation of all member states is mandatory for the convening of a Saarc summit.
Saarc summit remains in limbo for the third year running due to India’s refusal to attend a meeting in Pakistan. Islamabad was to host the 19th summit of the regional bloc in November 2016, but India on that occasion forced its cancellation by first pulling out of the meeting on the pretext of “increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region and growing interference in internal affairs of member states by one country”, because of which it claimed the environment was “not conducive to the successful holding of the 19th Saarc summit in Islamabad”. India was later joined by its regional allies Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan, all of whom also pulled out citing concerns about terrorism and external interference in an implied criticism of Pakistan. Pakistan has not been able to convene the event for the third year now because of a virtual Indian veto.
Saarc summits, as per the charter of the body, are to be held once a year or more frequently as required by the situation. The summits are held on a rotational basis in alphabetical order of the names of member states. However, summits could be held only on 18 occasions in Saarc’s 33 years of existence. Most of the postponements have taken place in the last 17 years. Although there have been different reasons for the delays and rescheduling, including bilateral disputes and internal problems of member states, India has been the most common cause in these postponements, if not all. At least on two occasions the hold-ups were because of Pakistan-India disputes.
India refused to attend the 11th summit on the pretext of a coup in Pakistan and the 12th summit because of the prime minister’s schedule. India on those occasions used the participation card to pressure the hosts. The longest delay was on the occasion of the 11th summit hosted by Kathmandu. On that occasion the summit scheduled for November 1999 was held in January 2002 after delay of nearly two years and two months. On five occasions in the past the venue had to be changed for hosting of the conference — 3rd, 4th, 5th, 15th and 16th summits.
This time India is insisting that it would not agree to a meeting in Islamabad as long as it does not see any visible progress on its concerns about terrorism. Pakistan has time and again denied the allegations and has on several occasions offered dialogue to address the outstanding issues. The functioning of Saarc appeared to have the silent support of everyone except India. Saarc summits once scheduled, after obtaining the concurrence of all the member states, must go ahead even if the heads of state or government of one or two members do not find it convenient to attend. No member should be allowed to hold Saarc to ransom. Using internal developments in one member state to disrupt the Saarc process should be unacceptable.
There is a need to oppose any attempt to dilute the principle of sovereign equality of member states, as all members are equal partners. Saarc members should use its platform to resolve their political differences. All problems that afflict the region must be sincerely addressed and resolved. Sweeping them under the carpet can never be the answer. The only wise and courageous choice is to resolve all disputes and differences on a durable basis, those solutions based on justice and fair play can be durable. Peace and tranquility is essential for the progress of South Asia. Nothing can be achieved as long as there is tension and hostilities among any members.
Pakistan condemns terrorist attacks and joined the international coalition in the campaign against terrorism. The country itself has been a victim of terrorism. The concerted campaign against terrorism must also identify and examine the causes that breed terrorism, that derive people to hopelessness and to desperation. It is equally important that a distinction was maintained between acts of legitimate resistance and freedom struggles on one hand and the acts of terrorism on the other.
This article was originally published in Pakistan & Gulf Economist