The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), as the name states, is a group designed to increase the cohesion between all South Asian states and to tackle the region’s common problems together. Yet for the residents of Pakistan and India, and arguably for many neutral spectators too, the summit is important because it gives the two nations a chance to practice some diplomacy and engage in dialogue.
In the opening days the Nepalese Prime Minister, K P Sharma Oli, gave a much-needed address on the problems faced by the region today; unpredictable weather patterns caused by global warming, ill-prepared government when it comes to natural disaster managements, and grinding poverty in large sections of the land. His solutions – focusing on intra-state cooperation and cultural exchange – were also the need of the hour. Alas the good work done by several groups and bodies under the SAARC banner will be – and already is – overshadowed by the 20-min meeting between Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz and India’s External Affairs Minister, Shushma Swaraj on the sidelines of the summit.
The meeting did bear some positive fruit, although it still falls short of any meaningful exchange. Since the Pathankot attack bilateral talks are aimed at damage control, and this one continues that trend. Pakistan’s stumped Pathankot probe would be allowed to visit India, so they can gather evidence, if any, and carry their investigations further. While the chances of some actual discovery that might lead to something concrete are slim, the gesture from both sides is what really counts at the moment. Post-Pathankot, anything that contributes to the beginning of an open –ended dialogue by legally empowered diplomats is a victory. And while such talks may not have been mentioned, the continued engagement and cooperation will make the path easier.
Another major development coming out of the summit is the agreement on the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Islamabad – where another SAARC summit is being held in November. The last blitz of a visit was more an icebreaker than anything else; this, observers hope, can lead to great progress if managed right.