The friction between India and Pakistan and the handshakes by Modi and Sheriff hogged much of the limelight at the eighteenth South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit held in Kathmandu, Nepal.
SAARC is a geopolitical organization of eight countries located in South Asia namely India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh and the recently added full member Afghanistan. Around 21% of the world population belongs to these countries where youths constitute the majority of the populace. The countries if collaborated appropriately could encourage the process of economic and social development in the region. The first summit was held in Dhaka in 1985 and the latest one, in Kathmandu on 26 and 27 of this month. But the two day regional summit attended by leaders of eight nations turned out to be fruitless due to the standoff between India and Pakistan. The differences remained unresolved which Modi describing it as ‘shadows of the past’. According to the reports, three pacts aimed at boosting the rail and road connectivity and sharing of electricity was not signed by Pakistan. India had opposed to Pakistan’s demand of including China as a SAARC member. The two leaders were apparently refusing to break the silence and making the first move during the summit.
Modi had announced a number of initiatives by brushing aside the differences and contributing towards an economically vibrant and integrated region. Easing of visa norms for business leaders, a pledge to address Saarc member countries’ concerns over level playing field in India, funds for establishing a Saarc Regional Reference Laboratory for Tuberculosis and HIV and speedy visas for those coming to India for medical treatment were some of the promises made by Modi at the opening session of the two-day meet. But the evident enmity between the nuclear armed neighbours cast a cloud on the summit.
The ties between India and Pakistan have been strained in recent years with three wars fought with each other, frequent breaching of ceasefire along the border and the calling of Secretary level talks by India protesting Pakistan’s move of consulting with the separatist Kashmiri leaders ahead of the talks. Adding to these, are the issues of poverty, poor connectivity and barriers to trade which block the development along with the face off at the summit. Sheriff had accepted Modi’s invitation to attend his swearing in ceremony in May in New Delhi and the expectations of a new improved relation between the two countries were high. The bonhomie seems a distant dream with the two countries adamant on their stands, working for political gains and fostering enmity rather than improving on the relations between the two countries.