India on Monday advised Pakistan to desist from “blocking every possible initiative” under SAARC. It warned that such an approach would force countries of the region to look for other options like BIMSTEC to boost regional cooperation.
Without naming Pakistan, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said some basic standards of regional cooperation have to apply. He observed that Islamabad’s opposition to major initiatives like those aimed at improving regional connectivity have frustrated a majority of the member countries.
In an address at a think tank, he said India has immense interest in the SAARC and therefore, he felt it was “hugely damaging” to the region as well as Asia, if Pakistan continues to block major regional initiatives under the grouping.
The annual summit of the grouping was to be held in Islamabad but it was cancelled after India and many other member countries decided not to participate, following Uri attack on September 18.
There has been an indication that India and some other countries may look for BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) for regional cooperation if Pakistan continues to create hurdles for SAARC. Islamabad played a spoilsport in firming up a key connectivity pact during SAARC’s last summit in Kathmandu.
“Problem with SAARC is that some basic sort of standards of regional cooperation have to apply. If you say that I will be a regional member but I will not allow regional trade, I will not allow regional connectivity, will not allow regional motor ways, I will not allow regional railways, then what is it about? You cannot be a member of a region and block every possible regional initiative and still say I am good member. That sort of approach has to change,” Jaishankar said.
Referring to China-Pakistan ties, he said some issues arising out of the relationship were causing concern to India, including the economic corridor Beijing was building through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.
Asked about Pakistan’s frequent threat of use of tactical nuclear weapons, he said, “We do not speak of tactical nuclear weapons, somebody else does.”
At the interactive session, he said there was no need for major powers to get involved in the resolution of issues between India and Pakistan. He pointed out that such an idea engenders “expectations and illusions” that are not sustained by objective facts on the ground.
Referring to the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan and some other instances, he said there was some sort of involvement of great powers in the past. However, he insisted that “a constantly interfering umpire” does not allow the game to take its natural course. He said India’s “allergy” to involvement of any great power in Indo-Pak ties is well known.
Talking about “fluidity” of geo-politics and fast changing foreign policy space, Jaishankar, who has just returned from the US, said there will be change in the terms of engagement between the US and the world under Donald Trump’s presidency.