November 27, 2014


[The 18th SAARC Kathmandu summit  did not offer much to share here with our readers. There is no reason to be happy about and tell it was a success when Nepal can't trade with Bhutan or there is no use okaying the 500 or 1000 Indian Rupee Note uses in the market when Nepalese workers in India can't open a bank account in Indian banks to transfer what they earn to Nepal. While coming home from India, Nepalese workers are looted by Indian thugs as they have to carry the money in bundles.] 

By B. K. Rana

The 18th Kathmandu SAARC summit, the first since 2011, concluded today in Kathmandu. For the summit meeting, Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, was donned like a bride: streets reworked and cleaned up, sidewalk vase planted flowers bloomed naturally like in square gardens, painted street walls and member country flapping flags that fluttered in the gentle winds seemed welcoming everyone to the capital city. The member country leaders praised Nepal for having beautifully organized the summit ! The acronym – SAARC - stands for ‘South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’ and was founded in 1985 with 7 founding member countries in alphabetical order – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Then  Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had shown some reluctance in founding any such organization as Nepal was then already proposed a ‘Zone of Peace’, which India never appreciated and approved of as well. As anyone can understand, India is the major player, however, Pakistan also asserts its greater role within the organization. In Kathmandu this time, Pakistan recommended China and South Korea for the organization’s full memberships and the reason it offered for was China’s recent ‘growth and rise’ and bringing in Central Asia more closer. It may sound a wise proposal, bringing China into the forum but India may not appreciate it saying, ‘China is not in South Asia’ and also would further retort, ‘Could SAARC countries also ask for ASEAN memberships or like such others ?’ If China were to be included, SAARC  would require changing into some other name - befitting China and South Korea also, as BIST-EC has now become BIMSTEC - the  Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. 

The 1971 fall of Dhaka and birth of Bangladesh which used to be East Pakistan is what  Pakistan feels humiliated of and can't just forget about. There are some Hindu nationalists that also do not accept even today, the 1947 Indian sub-continent partition. India and Pakistan have long-standing unresolved Kashmiri issue. The hanged Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on December 15, 1971, tore down the papers at the UN Security Council meeting and walked out denouncing the proposal that he thought was to "legalize aggression, legalize occupation" or in other words was very much in favour of India. (Please watch a Video below).

One of the Modi government ministers said earlier in May this year that India would abrogate its constitution's article 370 which provides greater autonomy for the Muslims in the state of Kashmir but not to the Hindu folks. Kashmir, according to Bhutto is 'a disputed territory' and since long a hotbed of terrorism in South Asia. In early October this year, 9 civilians were killed in Indo-Pak border firings. The agreed 2003 ceasefire still holds, but the neighbours often accuse each other of violating it. This fresh skirmish is what caused Indo-Pak leaders to not formally meet during the Kathmandu Summit. India and Pakistan have fought 4 wars until recently all of them were for the disputed territory of Kashmir and all the wars were won by India.

During the summit meeting, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaj Sharif distanced themselves, even did not seem looking at each other, but upon Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s ‘sincere request’, the former two unwillingly shook hands only to be clapped by few onlookers after summit conclusion! The duo’s  body language told they were in confront-mood, not yielding to each other and, one of the Nepalese former Prime Ministers Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, posted on his Facebook wall as saying - “Until and unless India and Pakistan have normal relations, SAARC will suffer only a ‘ritualistic’ fate”. He meant, in substance, SAARC has just become like some ‘fashion show’ in some lavish hotel wherein least developed and impoverished country leaders gather, shake hands, talk of their own, go on a retreat, issue a joint declaration and fly back home ! That’s all. It does not have that much effect in the global spectrum although the region is populated with more than 1 billion and 700 million people. The western media did not really care about it.

South Asia is plagued with terrorism. While addressing the summit meeting, Prime Minister Nrendra Modi paid tribute to November 26, 2008 Mumbai Taj Hotel terrorist attack victims also. The terrorist attack took 164 innocent lives wounding 308 others. India insists it has evidence that the attack was 'sponsored' by Pakistani Government but Pakistan just does brush the allegation aside. The Indian media report Pentagon Generals as saying "Pakistan (is) using militants as proxies to counter superior Indian military". India has suffered terrorist attacks several times already in the past and the July 7, 2013 Bodh Gaya bomb blast was latest in the list. 

Referring to the 2002 Gujarat riot that killed, according to official figures, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, some people in Pakistan see Narendra Modi as a ‘Hindu Taliban’. Since PM Modi has vowed to crush terrorism, ‘Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida, on the other hand has also announced the formation of an Indian branch of the extremist organization, calling on Muslims across the subcontinent to join the "caravan of jihad". The Indian Mujahideen - IM - is active in India and Nepal borders. India suspects the IM jihadits hide and operate from Nepal also.

Prime Minister Modi on his Sunday, August 3, 2014 address to Nepal's National Assembly in Kathmandu, the first ever address by any foreign leader, had declared he would visit Janaki Temple in  Janakpur, East Nepal Terai also while attending the SAARC summit. The Indian media had published a long list of his itineraries. The Indian Prime Minister Modi was also reported in the media he would distribute some 3000 bicycles and also speak to the general public which among many others, The Himalayan Voice also had objected. In the absence of his counterpart Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Prime Minister Modi's speech would have violated diplomatic norms and protocol also. The controversy flared up and he had to cancel the visit. In an unrestrained speech at the Bir Hospital, National Trauma Center that he handed over to Nepal Government, the visibly frustrated Indian PM Modi told he would visit the temple some other time and had bought a sapling to plant in Lumbini Garden also. He further told by visiting Janaki Temple,he wanted to experience by himself how it felt crossing the borders overland ? This all suggested he regretted not having an opportunity to visit the temple and Lumbini garden also. PM Modi should have visited any places he liked in Nepal but not chosen to speak to the general public everywhere he reached out. He offered a lecture at the Madison Square Garden in New York and in Sydney, Australia also and likewise President Bill Clinton had also offered a talk to some business leaders in Mumbai also but those were the different conditions. PM Modi should have visited the Janaki temple and not wanted to speak to the general public. If he had done so, he would have an opportunity to present himself as an accomplished South Asian statesman.

Prime Minister Modi landed in another controversy as he suggested Nepalese leaders bring a 'consensus  constitution' on time. He explicitly told to make room in the constitution for 'Pahadi' and 'Madheshi' peoples' aspiration also. With the term 'Pahadi', he meant the agitating Adivasi Janajatis or the indigenous folks that are thrown in the margin for centuries and now seek recognition and a fair share in the governance whereas by 'Madheshi' he meant the Terain folks, that also feel humiliated, disgraced and 'second graded' in the country as one of the results of which C. K. Raut campaigned for the secession of Terai from Nepal although no Terain political parties seemed supporting his movement.

The 18th SAARC Kathmandu summit  did not offer much to share here with our readers. There is no reason to be happy about and tell it was a success when Nepal can't trade with Bhutan or there is no use okaying the 500 or 1000 Indian Rupee Note uses in the market when Nepalese workers in India can't open a bank account in Indian banks to transfer what they earn to Nepal. While coming home from India, Nepalese workers are looted by Indian thugs as they have to carry the money in bundles. 

The two major stakeholders: India and Pakistan are at loggerheads  as usual and as long as it persists SAARC will not yield any fruits expected and adding more countries such as China and South Korea into it would also not help much. Both India and Pakistan have to demonstrate their willingness to educate people against social evils that persist there such as:  hanging a Dalit to death by a Pachayat in India for having affair with a married woman and militants gunning down health workers in Pakistan. There is not much to be excited about the regular gatherings of South Asian leaders in some certain places which they call summit meetings.