Pakistan’s invitation to India to participate in the much-delayed South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit is an empty gesture and doesn’t deserve any attention. New Delhi has rightly rejected the offer because there has been no change on the ground as far as Islamabad’s active support to terrorism is concerned. The hostile neighbour must first take credible steps to put an end to cross-border terrorism, shut down infiltration and keep the Line of Control (LoC) quiet, and punish the masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The 19th summit of SAARC was scheduled to be held in Islamabad on November 15-16, 2016. But after the terror attack on an Indian Army camp at Uri in Jammu & Kashmir on September 18 that year, India justifiably boycotted the meeting. The summit was eventually called off after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also declined to participate. Extending an invitation to India now is a feeble attempt on the part of Islamabad to gain diplomatic legitimacy even while continuing its age-old policy of sponsoring terrorism in India. Caught in the grip of an unprecedented economic crisis, the Pakistani establishment realises that it needs to normalise relations with its neighbours, particularly India, sooner than later to gain respectability. SAARC — a regional grouping comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — has not been very effective since 2016 as its biennial summits have not taken place since the last one in Kathmandu in 2014.
India has been insisting time and again that Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attacks, should be put in jail but Pakistan conveniently ignored such reminders, demonstrating its lack of will to fight terrorism. Nothing more can be expected from a country that has become the hub for global terrorism. Established in 1985, SAARC was meant to serve as a powerful platform to foster greater cooperation among the nations and usher in a new era of development in South Asia. However, Pakistan never lived up to the regional group’s ideals and objectives. Considering the challenges in making the SAARC initiative work, India has reset its approach to regional integration by seeking to strengthen bilateral engagements with the member nations under the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. It has laid stress on mutually beneficial economic engagements and humanitarian assistance. This was evident especially in the past two years during the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a growing feeling in diplomatic circles that SAARC as an integrated regional grouping is fast losing its relevance and appeal due to Pakistan’s hostile approach. The association has virtually become hostage to the India-Pakistan conflict, overshadowing the purpose for which it was formed. More often than not, the multilateral character of SAARC was lost in the bilateral conflict between India and Pakistan.