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Bhavani asked: Does ‘SAARC minus Pakistan’ hold a better chance of addressing South Asia's many challenges?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: The prime challenge for SAARC and South Asia is how to engender effective economic and security cooperation to boost regional prosperity and development.

    Those who say SAARC minus one can better address South Asian challenges say so, because Pakistan has been singularly stalling the process of economic integration through its policy of disallowing connectivity through its territory. This is flying in the face of its claims that it would like SAARC to prosper as a regional organisation. Its reluctance to sign the SAARC motor vehicles agreement, which would have allowed countries in the region to send their commercial vehicles across borders, is a prime example of its malafide intentions. It holds such issues hostage to settlement of Kashmir issue with India, which is purely a bilateral issue. Moreover, it has done everything possible to scotch any constructive engagement between the two countries, be it trade and commerce, people-to-people contact, cultural exchanges or pursuing threads on thorny issues like Kashmir, Siachen or Sir Creek from where the two countries left in 2007.

    Every time there has been an effort to restart the dialogue the spoilers from Pakistan have derailed the process. The Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008, the beheading of Indian soldiers in early 2013, and more recently attacks in Pathankot and Uri in 2016 prove this point. The civil-military dissonance on Pakistan's policy towards India is also making it difficult for Pakistan to relate to other states of the South Asian region. Pakistan's pathological fear as well as hatred of India is difficult to root out without willingness and effort on the part of its ruling class that thrives on such traits.

    However, such a view overlooks the facts of history and geography. Without effectively engaging Pakistan, the multiple challenges faced by SAARC countries on the economic and security fronts cannot be met satisfactorily. Much of the security challenges emanate from Pakistan because it uses terrorism as an instrument of its state policy. It stands between South Asia and Central Asia and holds the key to intra as well as inter-regional trade and commerce. It also holds the key to stabilisation of Afghanistan. Therefore, it is difficult to address the aforesaid challenges without roping in Pakistan into the SAARC framework for regional cooperation.

    (Posted on November 29, 2016)