Strained India-Pakistan relation hits SAARC: Summit in danger again?
It's September end and there's still no movement on the yearly SAARC Summit which is generally held in November, leading to speculations it might not be held this year too. Last year, in was to be held in Islamabad, but in the aftermath of the Uri attack, India backed out. Bangladesh and Afghanistan followed, quoting Pakistan's open support to terrorism.
Eight countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - comprise the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Since its inception in 1985, India has played a leading role. As of 2015, SAAR comprises 3% of the world's total area, 21% of its population and 3.8% of the global economy.
Though strained India-Pakistan ties have affected SAARC's functioning since the beginning, it seems like India has lately started abandoning the body altogether. Pakistan's gestures haven't improved things: it has opposed regional integration and connectivity initiatives under SAARC, and pulled out of the SAARC satellite project. India's move seems to be in line with PM Narendra Modi's threat of "isolating" Pakistan in the world.
Meanwhile, India has been focusing on the BIMSTEC, a regional group consisting of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal Sri Lanka and Thailand. It has attempted to involve almost all South Asian nations except Pakistan. There's also renewed push on the BBIN - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj met her SAARC counterparts in New York on UNGA's sidelines, but didn't talk about the summit. Her focus was on terrorism: "It is necessary that we eliminate terrorism…and end the ecosystem of its support." She added SAARC had failed to meet its objectives: there was still no free trade system in place, or any agreement on service trade.
According to reports, Nepal, the current SAARC chair, is trying to ensure the summit is certainly held in 2018. However, next year, general elections are scheduled in Pakistan, making the process somewhat difficult. We will have to wait and watch.