Stepping up its diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan globally following the Uri terror attacks, India on Tuesday said that it would not take part in the upcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Islamabad this November. With the diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan in full swing, it was only a matter of time before New Delhi came to this decision. With Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and possibly Bhutan following suit, the entire summit is on the verge of collapse. Yet again, the South Asian body of nations has been held hostage to the oddities of India-Pakistan ties. Created in 1985 to boost trade relations and establish greater amity among nations in a conflict-ridden subcontinent, the SAARC has been pushed into irrelevance. Conflicts between member nations have taken precedence, with India and Pakistan leading the way. Between 1998 and 2002, SAARC summits were suspended as tensions between its two biggest members escalated over the Kargil War and Parliament attack. But it is the first time India has decided to boycott the summit altogether. The quest for economic integration in the region is impossible without a modicum of cooperation between its two biggest economies. Since it cares little for SAARC and conflict escalation out of the question, India’s decision to boycott this year’s summit move may not inflict the necessary diplomatic costs on Pakistan. However, some contend that the absence of Afghanistan and Bangladesh from the summit also illustrates the beginning of Pakistan’s international isolation, which starts near its borders. Both nations have also suffered at the hands of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Will this isolation extend beyond the immediate neighbourhood? It seems unlikely for the time being with the US, China, and Russia unwilling to act.
Multilateral bodies like SAARC, the United Nations, and the European Union were designed to promote peace and amity among rival nations on neutral ground. However, Britain’s decision to exit from the EU and the UN’s growing impotence in dealing with real conflicts does seem to suggest that multilateral bodies are growing increasingly inadequate in fulfilling their roles. They only seem to indulge in hackneyed discourse. But these bodies still have the potential for use. In times of conflict, organisations like the UN and EU allow rival parties to air out their differences on neutral ground, potentially deflating tensions. More importantly, these forums allow warring nations to conduct quiet meetings of real importance on the sidelines. An example of the same came during the 2014 SAARC summit when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. At best, India’s decision to boycott SAARC has blocked another avenue for quiet diplomacy.