Thursday, March 5, 2015

On the SAARC Yatra

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, who comes with an already impressive track-record in the MEA, completed his 'SAARC Yatra' to continue the Modi government's push for regional integration and understanding and also restart dialogue with Pakistan, which seems to have learned its lesson and stayed away from the Hurriyat Conference in Kashmir for now. But SAARC is in turmoil and needs India's leadership and the SAARC Yatra should have driven home that point.

In Bangladesh, the country is practically under siege as the BNP-ordered general strike makes life impossible for people. The Awami League government is in danger of being reduced to nothing and India needs to help both sides come together to bring some sense. Ultimately, it seems unlike that the AL government can last its full term, given the controversial way in which it was elected (though not it's fault). In Nepal, the CA is stuck and there seems no hope for a Constitution anytime soon. India needs to particularly work to push this process along for there is the constant danger that the Maoists might try to snatch back power by force after losing their majority in the last CA election. The Maldives is clearly going through a dangerous time as former President Nasheed, a staunch Indian ally who was deposed in a coup, is being held for trumped-up terrorism charges, even as the current government there tries to give China a footing in the Indian Ocean. India should not repeat the mistake of seeing its ally being deposed unconstitutionally - it must guarantee a constitutional process in the Maldives for both countries' long-term benefit.

Sri Lanka offers a glimmer of hope, after pro-China Rajapaksa was defeated in an election, supposedly with an Indian hand in it. The new President Sirisena has made all the right noises with regards to China and the Tamil question in the island nation. It is up to Modi's government to use this opportunity. In Afghanistan, President Ghani is looking for talking with the Taliban (and its benefactor, the ISI) on one side and making it impossible for them to win any more territory on the other. Barack Obama's effective cancellation of the deadline he had set for a retreat makes things better. India enjoys immense goodwill in the country and, even as Ghani tried to build bridges with Pakistan, India must remain there for the long-term.

Bhutan is the one country where everything is just fine - and the government should keep it that way. True, China is trying to eek in there, but that seems unlikely to be a problem in the near future. Pakistan is the only country which seems totally hopeless as of now, with its economy continuing its slide and the explosion of terrorism there. The FS meeting followed the usual script with accusation (without any proof) of Indian interference in Balochistan and FATA. Although PM Nawaz Sharif did meet the FS, it seems the only hope of a real breakthrough can come in the 2016 Islamabad SAARC Summit, when PM Modi will probably travel to the country, that was once a part of ours. Till then, talks are fine, but nothing can be expected to move. 

No comments: