Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Oct 12, 2016
In aftermath of the Indian army’s ‘surgical-strikes’ on ‘terror launch-pads’ inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) has claimed it's first casualty SAARC
India’s ‘surgical strikes’ and the SAARC Summit

The Indian army’s ‘surgical-strikes’ on ‘terror launch-pads’ inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) has received as much moral support from almost all Governments in South Asia as from within the country and all across the world. While coming down on terrorism, and thus Pakistan in this context, neighbourhood nations are as unsure about the future course as they were near-sure about the postponement of the Islamabad SAARC Summit, originally due in November.

Bhutan’s backing for the Indian decision to boycott the summit was not unsurprising in a way. Yet, in the context of not-so-infrequent media reports about Bhutan seeking to equidistant itself between India and China, the decision of Bhutan’s second democratic Government reads more significant than in the kingdom of the yore. Afghanistan has been as much a victim of Pakistan-involved terrorism as India – and maybe even more.

For long, Bangladesh has been having problems over terrorism and also the Pakistani use of its territory for cross-border terrorism against India. The nation has also been having diplomatic issues with Pakistan in recent times, after the latter protested to the trial, conviction and the execution of adjudged local war-criminals from Bangladesh’s ‘War of Independence’ in 1971.

Nepal’s was a stand-alone case, so to say. The Government of ex-Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known still by his name from the underground days, Prachanda, readily conceded India’s point on the terrorism issue. More importantly, as the incumbent chair of SAARC, it near-unilaterally announced the cancellation of the Islamabad Summit on the dates originally fixed.

It was complete victory for India’s quiet diplomacy in the days preceding ‘surgical-strikes’ and also the Summit boycott when southern neighbours, Sri Lanka and Maldives also came on board, thus isolating Pakistan from within South Asia. It might have been so even if India had not followed upon the immediate Uri and relatively-distant Pathankot terrorist attacks with the ‘surgical strikes’.

On both counts, other South Asians have stood by India even in the past, whenever India had been a victim of cross-border terrorism. There had been occasions when Pakistan was not the host, as now, but India had expressed reservations viz Islamabad, be it at SAARC or in the Commonwealth. It’s only in the UN, especially in the Security Council, that veto-members like the US earlier and China at present have been dampening Indian efforts to name and shame Pakistan. That continues.

< style="color: #163449;">SAARC venue

India still cannot conclude that the neighbourhood consolidations against Pakistan is complete and continue. It needs to ask itself about the possible reaction of some of the other member-States if Pakistan had refused to announce the ‘indefinite postponement’ of the Summit. The founding-fathers of the SAARC may not have provided for such an eventuality, yet the SAARC still might have split, if not vertically, had Islamabad gone ahead with the Summit.

For now, for sure, the majority in the eight-member organisation has been on India’s side. But it may not be so forever. Pressure at best may be brought upon Pakistan to agree to shift the Summit venue, but whether ‘national ego’ would permit them to readily yield is again a question.  The inherent policy of ‘consensus decision’ could imply that the shoe may be on the Indian foot for India to decide if some of the other member-nations wanted to ‘play even’ by the two big regional nations.

< style="color: #163449;">Fresh date

Already, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives have talked about their continuance in the SAARC, and for fixing a fresh date for the Summit. In Sri Lanka, it has become a domestic political issue, and even the timing of Sri Lanka’s announcement on non-participation in the November Summit has become the subject matter of a political discourse. The Government had to clarify that their decision was announced only after Pakistan decided on the postponement.

After Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recent India visit, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera clarified that Sri Lanka was not pulling out of SAARC. The clarification possibly became necessary, for national, regional and international audiences, after PM Wickremesinghe indicated the need for taking a closer look at SAARC, while in New Zealand, ahead of his India visit.

India’s other southern neighbour Maldives did not lag behind, either in condemning terrorism or in seeking an early Summit. “The Maldives condemns international terrorism, especially those originating from outside,” the nation’s Foreign Ministry said, after Pakistan had announced the ‘indefinite postponement’ of the Islamabad Summit. In saying so, Maldives also called simultaneously upon SAARC member-nations to “create an environment conducive” to the early holding of the Summit.

Needless to point out, the US, the EU, Russia and even China have backed India on terrorism front. The US has also gone ahead and asked Pakistan to behave. Faced with terrorism nearer home, China however used it UNSC veto against repeated Indian calls for the UN to name Pakistan-based terror leaders and instigators. Even the Russian reaction after the surgical-strikes was halting, thus possibly requiring reiteration on the diplomatic front.

All of it means that India should not – and could not, up to and after a point -- move ahead on reviving bilateral Pakistan ties – even testing the waters – without involving all those SAARC nations that have stood by it just now. As much as they may press Pakistan to behave, the US and/or other international interlocutors, possibly including Russia, may also pressure India, if only to check the eternal Pakistani drift into a state of ‘statelessness’ in whatever form and shape.

Alternatively, and more realistically, other SAARC member-nations may now ask India to yield and agree to a fresh date for a recalled Summit. Having flagged Pakistani hand in terrorism as the reason for it pulling out of the November Summit, what’s the yardstick that India can prescribe as proof of Pakistani behaviour through the short, medium and long terms is the question that India should be asking itself – especially if other SAARC members were to ask for it, and also ask it to rejoin the Summit process on an early date.

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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