Amir Mateen


KATMANDU: Let’s face it: the regional cooperation envisioned in SAARC

charter cannot materialise meaningfully without Pakistan and India

resolving their major differences.

This is reminded, once again, by the state of affairs here after

nearly 30 years of the SAARC formation. On paper, there exists an

ambitious agenda for the 18th SAARC Summit. This includes various

initiatives for intra-regional connectivity through electricity,

railways and roads, which might result into three possible agreements

among SAARC members. What connectivity, you might ask considering the

ground reality. The SAARC Big Two, Pakistan and India, are not even

talking to each other, let alone mending their messy fences. You might

find the summit theme “deeper integration for peace and prosperity”

even more ironic.

Behind this charade of diplomatese and massive paraphernalia, the buck

stops at the will-they-won’t-they suspense over a possible Nawaz-Modi

meeting. Aboard the Prime Minister’s plane, Nawaz Sharif candidly

admitted that India had left no choice for Pakistan after cancelling

talks between the foreign secretaries of the two countries. He was

absolutely clear that the request for talks has to come from the

Indian side as “the ball is in India’s court.” He was so careful with

his words that he particularly cautioned us (journalists) not to

misquote him on this grave matter. He even requested us not to use an

off-the-record joke that could be misconstrued.

He minced no words in admitting that the “obstacles” between Pakistan

and India are not likely to let SAARC achieve its potential. If the

European Union (EU) could integrate their economies and borders why can’t we have some minimal regional cooperation.” So

true, considering that SAARC only has five per cent regional trade in

comparison to the EU’s 65 per cent.

Obviously, Modi’s backhanded response to Nawaz Sharif’s

extraordinary gesture of attending the Indian Prime Minister’s

oath-taking had put the Pakistan Premier in an awkward situation. Modi

comes to Nepal riding on the crest of successive victories, the recent

being the BJP breakthrough in Maharashtra and Hariana’s elections.

However, Nawaz Sharif’s situation may not be so rosy. He will have to

constantly look over his shoulders to check out on events back home

where Imran Khan is all set to invade Islamabad again. The last thing

he wants is Imran Khan to accuse him of a sell-out on India.

Perhaps Modi also has to take into account his domestic situation.

Even if we forget the RSS pressure, many insist, Modi may not want to

show flexibility on Pakistan in the middle of elections in (Indian

Occupied) Kashmir. Not after raising the ante by escalating tensions

on the LOC and by attempting to change the constitutional status of

Kashmir. But others insist that Modi also needs to deflect

international pressure on restarting Indo-Pak dialogue before Barack

Obama’s visit.

The rare spirit shown by SAARC heads of governments and states to

attend Modi’s oath-taking is long gone. Five of the eight SAARC

countries have got new governments but the contours of regional

politics are yet to clear up. And it is not just Nawaz Sharif who

feels awkward at the hands of Modi. Nepal’s ruling alliance got its

share of flak when Modi almost chastised it on his arrival not to

delay writing its Constitution. He said that he did not want to

interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs but this was precisely

interference. This was hardly the way to respond to splendid display

of hospitality extended by Nepali people to SAARC leaders. Half of the

city was there to welcome them with a spectacular show of Nepal’s

cultural diversity, which, we are told, cost $30 million.

We don’t know what Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani might have in

store when he meets Modi for the first time. Ghani is definitely no

(Modi-fan) Karzai and may have ruffled a few feathers by going first

to China and Pakistan while emanating some positive vibes. What we

know is that Pakistan is pushing for China’s entry into SAARC from the

status of an observer to a full member. Just as it was difficult for

Pakistan to veto Afghanistan’s entry into SAARC it would become

difficult for India to maintain its veto against China. If India can

become a partner with China in BRICS and the recently formed China’s

Asian replica of the IMF, it will have to come up with difficult to ignore

logic to curtail China in Saarc.


Nutshell: The chances of a formal Nawaz-Modi meeting are slim. But the

Indo-Pak politics has a way of surprising twists and another one can’t

Be ruled out. The only way it will happen is if the Indians make a move

and Pakistan gives them a face-saving way out of their very harsh

stance. In any case, Nawaz and Modi will come across each other on at

least four occasions in two days. It will be interesting to see if the

two could maintain stern expressions on their faces for so long.

Hundreds of cameras will be looking for a small change in the mood.

You never know when a smile leads to a small talk, which in turn can

turn into a bigger exchange of, well, whatever. It’s unlikely but we

journalists live in the hope of capturing some rare feats.

The News

November 26, 2014