Maldives, Nepal not in favour of ejecting Pakistan from SAARC
SAARC founder-members Maldives and Nepal are not in favour of ejecting Pakistan from the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. They want all member states of the 32-year-old regional grouping to work together in this multipolar world to take South Asia forward.
In separate interviews to this correspondent here, this composite view was expressed by Maldives Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee, its Foreign Secretary Dr Ali Naseer Mohamed, and Nepal’s Ambassador to India Deep Kumar Upadhyay.
This is in contrast to the view in certain quarters in India that, since Pakistan is opposing many crucial initiatives proposed by New Delhi and thus blocking SAARC’s forward movement, Pakistan should be isolated or ignored, and sub-regional groupings such as BBIN and BIMSTEC should be promoted with much vigour. Pakistan is not a member of BBIN and BIMSTEC.
Speaking at the Raisina Dialogue last Wednesday, Indian Foreign Secretary Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said: “Regional groupings are today one of the building blocks of the global order. Their driving force and commonality are perhaps the most obvious of all. India is a founder member of SAARC, an organization that has been made ineffective due to the insecurity of one member.
“We hope to partially remedy this through the BBIN sub-regional grouping. It is also our expectation that the current level of enthusiasm among members of BIMSTEC can be channelled towards more far-reaching initiatives.”
BBIN consists of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal, while BIMSTEC stands for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, a group of seven countries in South Asia and South East Asia, namely: Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.
Maldives Minister Dr Shainee, here to attend the Raisina Dialogue, told me on Thursday: “We need to make regional cooperation work in South Asia. SAARC should be all-inclusive, and all our eight countries should work together.”
He went on: “SAARC countries share civilisational heritage. We all must collaborate and cooperate to make it work. We account for a fourth of humanity! And SAARC can play a crucial role in the global arena.”
Maldives Foreign Secretary Dr Mohamed, also here for the Raisina Dialogue, pointed out that the eight countries together account for 1,762 million people—-nearly a fourth of the world’s total population of 7,400 million.
Nepal’s Ambassador Upadhyay said: “The need of the hour is that we should work together and move forward.” He expressed the hope that the 19th SAARC summit will be held sooner than later.
Pakistan was to host the summit in Islamabad last September. But it was postponed indefinitely after India pulled out, citing terrorist attacks in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Other countries followed suit.
(Latest population estimates of SAARC members are: India 1,326 million; Pakistan 192 million, Bangladesh 162 million; Afghanistan 31 million; Nepal 29 million; Sri Lanka 21 million; Bhutan 7,84,000; and Maldives 3,92,000).
Dr Mohamed said intra-SAARC trade was barely 2% three decades ago. Thanks to SAPTA and SAFTA, it has gone up to 5% and now stands at 7%.
When told that intra-regional trade amongst countries of ASEAN, European Union, African Union and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Area) is a lot more than that in South Asia, he said: “SAARC is neither like ASEAN, nor EU nor any other trade blocks. “Certainly, there is scope for more trade, and we are not erecting any trade barriers,” he added.
Meanwhile, there appears to be no forward movement as regards the 19th SAARC Summit, which could not be held in Pakistan because India and other members chose to stay away. Tension continues to persist between India and Pakistan, and nobody appears to have any idea about how long it may take for matters to cool down, thus paving the way for holding a successful summit.