Regional

Strengthening SAARC

Jul 31, 2017
Nawaz Sharif can take something to his credit before he walks out the door. A day before the SC disqualified the PM, Sharif returned from Maldives after a successful diplomatic visit. In his meeting with Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, the two leaders signed several Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) pertaining to youth development, climate change and people to people interactions. The meeting also reaffirmed the two countries’ commitment to the ‘Ummah’ and to Islamic brotherhood.
 
The true diplomatic victory for Pakistan, however, came in the form of Maldives’ support for holding the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad. A 2016 SAARC summit had been scheduled to be hosted in Islamabad, but it was cancelled on New Delhi’s opposition to Islamabad as the venue. Back then, Maldives had criticised India’s decision, and its support now shows Pakistan can begin to find a way out of its isolation through serious diplomatic efforts and regional partnerships.
 
SAARC is an important body whose true potential has not yet been fulfilled. The body can not only provide solutions to the Afghanistan conundrum, but can also improve relations between India and Pakistan. A common South Asian trading bloc, for instance, could see trade soar between Pakistan and India and lead to subsequent progress towards further regional integration and a lasting peace. Till now, this has remained a chimera. SAARC has suffered due to Pakistan and India’s jostling for control, and as the cancellation of the 2016 summit highlights, the balance of power is in India’s favour. Support from Maldives, thus, can help balance the odds and serves to highlight the role other SAARC members can play in defusing tensions in the region. It goes without saying that all SAARC nations must stick to the goal of peace and greater integration in the region and resist the temptation of becoming part of hostile blocs.
 
For Pakistani diplomacy, the Prime Minister’s trip to Maldives can serve as a good template. However, SAARC will not emerge as a functioning body unless Afghanistan and India consent to a greater role for Pakistan in the organisation. And that can only happen if Pakistan is willing to make compromises in the region, for the larger interest of peace, stability and prosperity — which is where our own long-term interests lie. 
 
Daily Times, July 31, 2017

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