Is India getting isolated in SAARC?

With both Pakistan and Nepal warming to each other and joining hands to invite China to be a member of SAARC, India could be in a spot of bother.

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@pid_gov
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@pid_gov

Dhairya Maheshwari

Pakistan on Tuesday offered to host the next SAARC summit. Nepal, the current SAARC chair, in turn lauded Pakistan for playing a commendable role in the regional grouping.

The visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited the SAARC secretariat in Kathmandu on Tuesday before the conclusion of his two-day visit and SAARC’s secretary-general Amjad Hussain B Sial praised Pakistan warmly.

The growing isolation of India in the region was indicated by remarks made on the sidelines. While India has been opposing the proposal, several SAARC members now appear in favour of inviting China to join the grouping. And the next SAARC summit, boycotted by India since 2016, could see the proposal gaining ground.

For Pakistan, SAARC chair’s backing indicates a reversal of fortunes, two years after the nineteenth edition of the diplomatic conference in November 2016, scheduled to be held in Islamabad, was boycotted by several member states in the wake of terrorist attacks in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir. India was at the forefront of the effort to ostracise Pakistan in the neighbourhood, alleging that the terror attacks were supported by state actors in Pakistan.

“Given the excitement in Nepal about its new government and its agenda to chart a new course different from traditional ties with India, Nepal and Pakistan might explore ways to corner India,” a former high-ranking Indian diplomat who has served in SAARC told National Herald.

Not wishing to be identified, the former IFS officer noted that Nepal had been in favour of admitting China in the multilateral regional bloc since 2005, “but in recent years it had tempered its enthusiasm, especially being Saarc Chair.”

“Now it may do this given its enthusiasm for even closer bilateral relations with China,” the former diplomat quipped.

Nepal’s new Prime Minister KP Oli stated last month, shortly after assuming power, that his government wanted to deepen ties with China to balance India’s clout in the country.

Pakistan, like Nepal, backed China’s inclusion as a full-fledged member of SAARC at the eighteenth edition of conference in Kathmandu in 2014. India had voiced its objection to Beijing’s inclusion, which meant that the proposal couldn’t go through. A consensus is needed to admit a new member.

Professor SD Muni, an expert on Nepal and former Indian Ambassador, noted that besides Nepal and Pakistan, Bangladesh had also at a point of time supported China’s membership in SAARC.

“Both the countries could well again revive the demand of including China in the next SAARC summit in Islamabad later this year,” Muni said.

India’s former ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, agrees.

Sood said, “Pakistan would be very receptive to the idea of China joining the SAARC grouping.”

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