Abir L. Mazumder*
The Indian national daily Hindu has report on September 28th, the likeliness of a complicit decision to scrap the 19th SAARC Summit which was to be held in Islamabad. The Hindu confirms this from officials in the foreign ministry of Nepal, which is also the current chair of the body. The news comes hours after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan have announced their steps to boycott the summit. Diplomatic options exercised by Nepal Foreign Ministry have not been successful to dissuade the decisions of the four member states, leaving no option but to cancel the summit on the grounds of non-participation of half the number of member states, the report says. It is also reported that the spokespersons from Pakistan however have claimed that the summit would be held as per plan, and acknowledges the decisions of the non-attending states as an unfortunate outcome.
The decision to not participate in Islamabad’s conference has come about as a result of attack by alleged Pakistani based terrorist handlers who infiltrated and carried out a terrorist attack taking the lives of Indian soldiers in Uri, Jammu & Kashmir, in India. Pakistan has been blamed as being divisive and non-compliant with the peaceful norms and practices maintained by the other nations. The Foreign Ministry of India has cleared its stand on two fronts, that terrorism and peace talks cannot go together, and as such, the Government of India shall not participate in the conference. A similar claim has been issued by the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry which has also pointed the fingers at Pakistan for it’s over the top interference in the interim matters of the government of Bangladesh. They too have dis-invited themselves from the summit. The representatives of Bhutan and Afghanistan too have followed the suit. There have been no official statements issued by the member nations of Sri Lanka and Maldives as of now on the matter. The latest developments include the “Surgical Strike” of the Indian Army in the cross-border shooting on the Line of Control, separating the nations, which Indian government claims to have successfully killed multiple terrorist dens, and Islamabad however has come up with a different story altogether about the attack. There is a flurry of jingoistic nationalistic posts on social media which does not augur well in times of tensions like this.
SAARC as a body representing the united aspirations of a region has been under the scanner for quite a long while. Half of the countries that make up SAARC have a historical burden on their shoulders, be it as colony or a protectorate region of the erstwhile Western colonialists, which in many ways has resulted in a play field of eclectic origins, be it in terms of identities and cultures of the people comprising the nation sates, the nature of economy, or the social and political nature of its governance. SAARC was envisioned to protect and promote this region with all its entwined complexities where focusing one alone would be equal to relegating many others. The abrogation by the heads of the states of the member nations, who have declined to be party to the latest summit in Islamabad in November, 2016 is indicative of breakdown of the very conception of unity in the region which requires it in earnest.
The South Asian University, located in New Delhi, India is considered as the best attempt of fostering growth and unity among the SAARC nations. This university which is presently housed in its makeshift campus is resided by students completing a Masters degree and Research Scholars of six departments including Biotechnology, Economics, Mathematics and Computer Sciences and International Relations and Sociology. The students here come from various geopolitical locations across the region, and also from the state of Pakistan. The students here are major stakeholders in the dream that SAARC was envisioned and brought into existence. Students from across the region have successfully completed their master’s degrees since 2010, when the university had opened its doors for the first time. The first batch of research scholars set to complete their doctoral degrees in the following year. In all earnest, beyond the academic success, no student differentiates or discriminates the other on nationalist lines, although each have their own place and are proud of belonging to their roots. The student community of South Asian University symbolizes a collective unified body of humans, where dissemination of knowledge, challenging and accepting various viewpoints, tasting different traditions and respecting the various cultures around us is the single motto. The university seeks to build an unique South Asian consciousness and run under the aegis of SAARC, in the motivation towards making the student conscientious citizens of the region who will create and recreate much needed harmony in life of the people here which includes resisting communalist and terror mongering mindsets, obliterate poverty and gender divides.
This is an earnest appeal from the concerned students of the South Asian University to re-establish dialogue among the member nations. Bloodshed, and war have historically emptied more purses and tills than it has filled and left many broken families in its wake, a skim through the historical archives of this region is enough proof of the same. This is an appeal of to all member nations to reconsider their stand on boycotting the summit, or if possible to reorganize it in a neutral venue. The people of the region must not be let down, the war on terror cannot be fought by silence and mistrust enshrined in diplomatic virtues, or by subtracting truant members and rather it should be by unified effort of the multiplicity of its representatives who wish to live peacefully and tolerably in a world which accommodates for it. The way ahead is only possible through dialogue and conversation among the people who inhabit these nations for the realization of the dream of South Asian consciousness. The small world of South Asian University is inhabited by citizens of all these nation states and is our best example of what we can achieve through speaking to each other. We, appeal to the governments of the South Asian nations to sit together and deliberate and iron out new ways to tackle the menace of violence and intolerance.
(Abir is a first year research scholar, of the PhD program in Sociology of the Faculty of Social Sciences, South Asian University. He likes to keep tabs on current issues and like to think of them in his own way and characterize and plot situations if his thoughts were put into practice.)