SAARC- A Chance Not Well Availed By India
By Ishaal Zehra
In the absence of Indian, Bangladesh and Nepal’s finance secretaries, the 8th SAARC Finance Minister conference on 25 August 2016, stressed on robust collaboration for trade liberalisation and regional connectivity among member states. The finance secretaries unanimously elected Finance Secretary of Pakistan Dr Waqar Masood Khan as chairperson of the meeting to discuss the agenda of promoting peace, stability, and shared prosperity. That was a good start to some healthy and prosperous relations amongst the South-Asian neighbouring countries. But India and the countries in its influential circle, or more honestly the Indian colonies, did their best to damage the peace process in the region.
Earlier this month, on 4 August 2016, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh too left the SAARC Interior Ministers’ meeting halfway through after losing a war of words with his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. The Indian minister indirectly accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism but when the Pakistani Interior Minister responded, Mr Singh found it difficult to digest.
Chaudhry Nisar called upon the countries from the region to differentiate between terrorism and freedom movements, sanctified by the UN Security Council, and observed that violence against freedom fighters in a disputed territory under Indian occupation was state-sponsored. “It was not Pakistan that closed its doors to talks”, he said. “Pakistan is ready to engage in any dialogue process based on mutual respect and dignity with no strings attached. It is for those who have put conditions and sub-conditions for initiating dialogue to reconsider and realign their position.” He made it quite clear that unlike India’s claims, terrorist activities were not restricted to India, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. Scores of terrorist attacks had taken place in Pakistan and were equally condemnable, if not more so, he observed, specifically mentioning the attacks on Army Public School in Peshawar, the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda and the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park in Lahore. Chaudhry Nisar observed that equating the movement for Kashmir’s liberation with terrorism was ‘dishonesty with history’. Interestingly, Rajnath Singh could not stick around much longer after that and left the venue without attending the final session of the conference.
Mani Shankar Aiyar who is a former Indian diplomat turned politician and a part of first Cabinet of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in the years 2004-2009, also criticized his Home Minister on having transformed SAARC into the South Asian Association for Regional Confrontation rather Cooperation by deviating from the SAARC proposed agenda.
At least Mani Shankar was sane enough to admit that Rajnath Singh had no constructive aims when he went for the SAARC conference. He only wanted to show naive and impressionable Indian saffronites that he had the chutzpah to tick off the Pakistanis on their own soil but unfortunately no one else was impressed.
What has been little reported or not reported at all in the Indian media is Pakistan Interior Minister, Chaudhury Nisar Ali Khan’s riposte to Rajnath Singh. Mani Shankar was honest enough to admit that what Nisar Ali Khan had said in response was far more glaring and true: “violence against freedom fighters in a disputed territory under Indian occupation is state-sponsored”. Did we [India] really want our partners in SAARC to hear such language directed at us? Or while we mutter that “talks and terrorism cannot go together”, do we [India] really want to hear the Pakistani Interior Minister telling SAARC and the whole world that “Pakistan is ready to engage in any dialogue process based on mutual respect and dignity with no strings attached”?
“We certainly have not been seeing by the United States as coming out the victor. While ritually asking Pakistan to “act against groups targeting neighbours”, the US State Department’s deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, availed himself of the opportunity provided by the spat to restore the hyphenated US view of India and Pakistan. Toner said, “We advocate for closer cooperation, certainly, between India and Pakistan to deal with the terrorist threat in both countries”. If that isn’t one in the eye for India, I would like to know what is. Rajnath’s position has been repudiated and Nisar Ali’s view has been reflected in the US State Department’s reaction to the SAARC Home Ministers’ meeting. Toner went on to make things even more explicit: “Terrorism is obviously a reality in both countries, and in order to effectively confront it, they need to work together.” We say we can’t work with a terrorism-complicit Pakistan government; Pakistan says there is no alternative to India and Pakistan working together to control terrorism; and the US State department, mixing up who is its “Major Defence Partner” in South Asia, not only wants India to follow the Pakistan line, it endorses Nawaz Sharif’s boast, saying, “We believe that Pakistan has taken and is taking steps to counter terrorist violence.”
While Indian media has tried to inflame its readers opinion by pictures and stories of Pakistani terrorist leaders holding demonstrations against Rajnath Singh, a report by Imtiaz Ahmed in The Hindustan Times of 6 August 2016 gives a twist to the tale. It quotes Pakistani officials as saying that “it was the army that discouraged religious and hard-line parties from banding together under the banner of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council and holding countrywide protests. It was also ensured that the demonstrations would be held all of ten kilometres distant from the site of the meeting.”
India has gone insane when comes to maligning Pakistan. It has been desperate to downplay Pakistan since long and has been doing foolish attempts to achieve the task. In a recent attack to disgrace Pakistan internationally India prepared a dossier for the UN which listed residences of their underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, as an evidence to show that he is holed up in Pakistan. However, the UNSC has rejected the Indian proposal to add three new addresses of Pakistan in the narrative summary of Dawood Ibrahim in its ISIL (Daesh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions List of individuals and entities subject to the assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo.
It was again an embarrassment for India, when the UN informed it that the three of the places cited by India as addresses of underworld don Dawoold Ibrahim in Pakistan have been found incorrect by a UN committee, which has removed these from its list. Last year too they had a similar bad taste when one of the addresses given to the UN was that of the residence of Islamabad’s envoy to the UN Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi. This residence has been with Lodhi’s family for decades, built by her parents in the early 1970s. Even the spokesman at Pakistan Foreign Office, in a statement, said that as for any previous reference in the narrative summary, all such references were factually incorrect and baseless.
It is inconceivable as how this emerging regional power trips over itself and provides addresses of highly respectable Pakistanis to the UN. The Indian High Commission in Islamabad could have easily verified that these were incorrect addresses before handing them over to the UN. Nonetheless, New Delhi should at least have the courage to apologize for its follies to those innocent Pakistani citizens in general and Pakistan in particular.