- Sandeep Dikshit
Ahead of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that begins in the Maldives on Thursday, India and Pakistan have come out with different positions on need to induct more observers and enhance the role of the existing ones.Pakistan has suggested that the moratorium on induction of observers be lifted. It supported Turkey's request for becoming one. It has also welcomed China's interest in an interactive partnership with the SAARC.
But India believes that the organisation's internal processes and institutions must be stabilised, than adding more observers. The eight-member SAARC now has nine observers. Perhaps, it is one of the regional groupings in which observers outnumber members.Official sources said the SAARC should focus on providing more ballast to its Secretariat and begin the hard work of implementing the decisions taken at the previous summits, than making it flabbier.
The SAARC's engagement with the observers was based on the Guidelines for Cooperation with Observers, adopted by the Colombo summit in 2008, the sources said. Their role was enhanced at the previous summit in Delhi by their having been invited for the inaugural and closing sessions of the summits. It was at Colombo that the SAARC decided to impose a moratorium on admission of more observers.
In fact, at the previous SAARC summits, India has suspected countries other than Pakistan of trying to add more observers or attempting to increase their role in an attempt to curtail India's influence in the grouping, where it has all-weather allies like the Maldives, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, and lately Afghanistan.
Three summits back, when India-Bangladesh ties were tense, New Delhi felt Dhaka was trying to step up China's role through the backdoor by seeking to increase its participation in some of the sub-groups set up by the SAARC. It had also felt the same way about Nepal some time back.
Pakistan remains unimpressed by India's line of reasoning. It points out that seeing the region's potential, the world was getting interested in the SAARC and besides increasing the number of observers the SAARC should consider establishing dialogue partnership with interested countries.
On the other hand, India says that while it is reassuring to note that the SAARC has more observers than members, which means the “rest of the world after 15 years of the setting up of the SAARC thinks it is worth coming to,” the SAARC should now carry on with the “hard, regular work” of implementing the decisions taken in the past.
Given the SAARC's tradition of taking decisions through consensus, the official sources said, the issue of including more observers or enhancing the role of the existing ones would be on the table. But given the current line-up, there was little possibility that the three-year-old moratorium would be lifted.