Another ministerial meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has come and gone, this time in Islamabad, with people of its eight-member nations none the wiser about the purpose of the get-together. The dysfunctional organization with a 31-year history is known more as a setting for repeated attempts by Pakistan and India to turn a new page in their embittered relationship. This time the violence in Kashmir, the attacks in Pathankot and Dinanagar and the earlier arrest of an alleged Indian spy in Baluchistan have blotted bilateral ties so badly that both sides decided to spurn the opportunity of an interaction between the Home Ministers of both countries.
For the record, the meeting discussed a range of crucial issues. A limited progress on some of them would eliminate considerable discord not only between Pakistan and India but also Afghanistan and Pakistan. The issues on the table, constant and unresolved since the Interior Ministers’ forum was set up a decade back, are terrorism, corruption, narcotics and psychotropic substances and maritime piracy. The meeting also deliberated on the Conventions on Suppression of Terrorism and the Additional Protocol and Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. But ties between Pakistan and India have been in deep freeze for months and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has pulled up Islamabad for its double talk on Taliban. The atmospherics certainly did not portend a breakthrough on any of the issues.
Mercifully, the SAARC charter does not provide for countries to launder their bilateral disputes at the forum. So while the meeting of the Interior Ministers went through its motions peacefully, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leveraged a meeting of Pakistani envoys to convey that the Kashmir issue is not India’s internal matter. Home Minister Rajnath Singh repeated the statements about terrorism and sanctuaries that he has repeatedly made in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be hard- pressed to come up with some out-of-the-box ideas, an expression he is so enamored of, if the SAARC summit in Islamabad later this year does not turn out to be as vacuous as this SAARC ministerial meeting.