Dhaka should have taken independent stand

INDIA deciding to pull out of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit that its perennial rival Pakistan was to host in Islamabad in November 9–10, with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan following suit, has practically brought an end to the 19th holding of the meeting as the SAARC charter requires unanimity of all the eight member countries for any decisions, at any levels of the regional bloc, that could be made. The summit has earlier not been held several times and has even been postponed, keeping to the charter, but the bloc has come to run into a problem. India’s decision has come about after a collapse in its relations with Pakistan reached a very critical stage, with the latest contributing factor being an attack on an Indian army base in Uri near the line of control in Kashmir on September 18 and Delhi blaming jihadis based in Pakistan and Islamabad suggesting that India itself carried out the attack. Coupled with this, there was the Indus water treaty issue and India’s vow for orchestrating Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation. In view of this, the summit came to be seen as a step towards a rapprochement between India and Pakistan.
By pulling out of the meeting, India may have won a victory with a devastating toll not only on itself but also on other member countries and South Asia, which is home to a fifth of the world’s poor, with low trade within the region. The summit was to consider security issues especially between India and Pakistan, work around tension in the region and to discuss common issues of trade, infrastructure, development and poverty alleviation for which SAARC was set up. While India’s decision, which is one too many for the summit not to be held, might further deepen mistrust and tension in the region and even put the relevance of SAARC to be questioned, Bangladesh which has its pioneering contribution towards forging the regional association should not have thrown its weight behind India in boycott decision, especially, echoing similar sentiment that India expressed. Although Bangladesh has reasons to fall out with Pakistan, especially in view of Islamabad’s unwarranted criticism of war crimes trial in Bangladesh, its unwillingness to offer an apology for the genocide committed in Bangladesh’s war for independence 1971 and its reluctance at not paying Bangladesh its share of money, an estimated Tk 180 billion due from the pre-1971 days, which should have been paid right after the war, Dhaka should not have pulled out of the summit in view of its commitment to the regional groping and the avenues that it opens up to regionally carry forward the charter of SAARC for lasting peace and sustainable economic development. Bangladesh should have displayed the ability to face Pakistan’s nose-poking into its internal affairs without taking India side and, thus, played the befitting role of a state that promised formation of SAARC.
A substantial progress in regional peace and amity through SAARC has so far been blurred primarily by hostility between India and Pakistan. Further faltering in this direction will only negate any sense of SAARC achievement. Dhaka’s throwing its weight behind Delhi in such a situation, moreover, will not stand Bangladesh in a good stead because Bangladesh need to look a country capable of projecting its independent image under any circumstances.

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