New Delhi: Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar on Monday slammed Pakistan’s “hugely damaging” approach of “blocking” every possible regional integration initiative within South Asia.
In a speech on “India and the Great Powers: Continuity and Change,” at the government funded Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses think tank in New Delhi, Jaishankar said in the absence of any forward movement on regional cooperation in South Asia, countries in the region would look for alternatives like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or BIMSTEC—a grouping bringing together some countries of South and Southeast Asia.
In his speech, Jaishankar said India had immense interests in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation grouping and improvement in connectivity and regional cooperation will help the entire region.
“Problem with Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) is that some basic sort of standards of regional cooperation have to apply. If you say that I will be regional member but I will not allow regional trade, I will not allow regional connectivity, will not allow regional motor ways, I will not allow regional railways, than what is it about?,” he asked.
The reference was clearly to Pakistan blocking two initiatives at the Saarc level at the Kathmandu summit in 2014 which would have seen motor vehicles and trains cross the region.
Pakistan blocked the two saying it was still in the process of securing internal clearances for both and only agreed to sign a pact on setting up a Saarc energy grid.
Pakistan also refused to join a pact for the launch of a Saarc satellite that India proposed. The Saarc satellite was suggested by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Kathmandu summit.
According to Jaishankar, “You cannot be a member of a region and block every possible regional initiative and still say I am good member. That sort of approach has to change,” Jaishankar said adding that most of the Saarc member countries want to pursue regional level initiatives. “If Saarc does not provide them an answer, they will settle for sub-regional initiatives and will look at other initiatives like BIMSTEC,” he said.
Replying to a question on involvement of “great powers” in India-Pakistan issues, Jaishankar said their involvement was visible during India’s 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan.
“It has not been helpful because it gives rise to expectations and illusions that are not sustained by objective facts on the ground. So, if you have to play and if you have an umpire who is constantly interfering, the game does not take its natural course,” he said.
“And when a game does not take its natural course, I think you end up with problems which then fester and increasingly become hard to resolve,” the foreign secretary said.
On the victory of Republican nominee Donald Trump in the 8 November US presidential polls, Jaishankar who has just returned from a visit to the US, said there will be change in the terms of engagement between the US and the world—given the tone and tenor of his campaign speeches.
It would be interesting to see whether the US, under Trump, will enhance its regional military capacities and address many of the challenges with stronger resolve and how he approaches regional economic initiatives, he said.