Pakistan can't 'invite' anyone for SAARC, but India's Kartarpur misstep and Navjot Sidhu's antics have created space for this bluff
Truth be told, SAARC is on its deathbed and may continue to remain in the ICU as long as Pakistan doesn’t end its proxy war with India and change its policy of using terror to achieve strategic ends in the neighbourhood. For its behavior, Pakistan has been blacklisted not just by India but also other members.
Since his cricketing days, Imran Khan was bit of a showman. He was good at his job, but he also knew how to stay in limelight. Now that he is a politician and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, one would have thought that gamesmanship would be replaced by circumspection and prudence. But it clearly hasn’t. Khan retains all the cockiness that he displayed on the cricket field. He probably doesn’t get it that strutting will make his current job even more complicated.
Let’s get this straight. Khan has no business "inviting" India for SAARC summit. That is not Islamabad’s call. It has no right to do so. Its “invitation” is the cricketing equivalent of a team that has lost in the group-stage of a tournament “inviting” top teams to play in the semi-final.
That Pakistan’s foreign office issued such a statement points to either poor grasp of diplomacy, or Khan’s magnificent delusion that he can bluff his way into ‘normalising’ ties with India. There is a third possibility. Since Kartarpur corridor is the centre of global media attention, Khan couldn’t resist the spotlight that an outrageous statement may generate, even if for a fleeting few moments.
Truth be told, SAARC is on its deathbed and may continue to remain in the ICU as long as Pakistan doesn’t end its proxy war with India and change its policy of using terror to achieve strategic ends in the neighbourhood. For its behavior, Pakistan has been blacklisted not just by India but also other members such as Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh who along with India pulled out of the eight-member summit two years ago citing Islamabad’s help to terrorists.
Khan has been pushing to host SAARC summit ever since he came to power and has been unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer. He might think that perseverance will eventually pay off, but this isn’t the case of a fast bowler persevering with an off-stump line in the hope that the batsman will eventually nick one to the wicket keeper. The seeds of India's disengagement with Pakistan lie in Islamabad’s (or more correctly, Rawalpindi’s) use of jihadist proxies as the necessary component of an asymmetric warfare against a more powerful India. This is unlikely to change because Pakistan interprets India’s rise as an existential threat and sees an “eternal war” against India the only way of containing that threat.
Since this inherent logic is unlikely to change, Pakistan, too is unlikely to change its behavior. Consequently, these superficial attempts to “normalize” relationship are doomed to repeatedly fail. It is Khan’s unadulterated arrogance that he thinks he can, on the one hand, foment terror on India’s borders in Kashmir and Punjab and on the other pose as the “messenger of peace” by “inviting” India for SAARC.
Khan surely remembers that India had rejected Khan’s “invitation” as recently as September this year by saying that “atmosphere in the region is not conducive for this summit” and pointing out that “this is not only India which has felt in this manner… There are a number of other countries in the region that have accordingly felt that under the shadow of terrorism and cross-border terrorism, it is difficult to hold the summit which is to be hosted by Pakistan.”
Khan surely hasn’t forgotten that Sushma Swaraj had left midway during a SAARC foreign ministers’ meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September that was also attended by her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi. It was seen as another snub towards Pakistan.
It is not surprising, therefore, to note that India has dismissed Pakistan’s “invitation” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “ploy” and “empty posturing”. According to a report in The Times of India, New Delhi has clarified that it is not for Pakistan to unilaterally “invite” India, which is not a “special invitee but an integral member” when a summit has not even been agreed upon by other members. The move is being seen as an attempt to collect some PR points before a large Indian media contingent “to paint India as the obstinate one holding up regional cooperation."
If India feels discomfited, it must remember that it created space for Khan to exploit through its inconsistent Pakistan policy. Not only there has not been any change in Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, its exporting of terror assets across the border and backing of insurgency in the Valley, the move to reopen India’s Khalistan wound has gained impetus since Khan became the prime minister.
Under these circumstances, Khan might be forgiven for interpreting India’s Kartarpur move as a tacit encouragement to trigger a thaw in bilateral ties. This impression has strengthened due to the immaturity of Indian politicians such as Congress leader Navjot Singh Sihdu who not only went to Pakistan against Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh’s wishes but gave a poor account of himself on Pakistani soil.
He gave “real credit” for Kartarpur corridor to the Pakistan prime minister's "24-year-struggle", made a bizarre connection between his hugging of Pakistan army chief with Rafale deal and said the corridor will “erase enmity between the two nations."
Sidhu is possibly confused and cannot recognise between a television show set and a news conference, but his ‘reality TV’ act has further aggravated India’s Kartarpur misstep. There is now a possibility that India’s painstaking diplomatic efforts to isolate Islamabad might be jeopardised.
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