SAARC Meet: Rajnath Visit No Favor to Islamabad

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh will be visiting Islamabad later this week to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Home/Interior Ministers Meet from August 3-4. Predictably, his visit has come in for criticism from many quarters in India, especially after tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad have escalated in the aftermath of the recent violence in Kashmir. Singh’s visit is seen as yet another befuddling aspect of Prime Minister Modi’s Pakistan policy. However, it is unfair to categorize it as such.

At the 13th SAARC Summit in Dhaka in 2006, it was decided that Home/Interior Ministers of SAARC countries would meet annually, followed by meetings between Interior/Home Secretaries, for giving a push to cooperation in the sphere of counterterrorism. However, due to recent tensions between India and Pakistan, many have opposed the home minister’s visit, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ally Shiv Sena, which has spoken in favor of breaking all ties with Pakistan. A number of commentators have also argued that Islamabad will end up having the last laugh while India’s concerns with regard to terrorism will be conveniently ignored by Pakistan. They have argued that it would have made more sense for the home secretary, Rajiv Mehrishi, to attend instead.

There is no doubt that relations between the two countries seem to be at a particularly low ebb, and not much can be expected in the context of the bilateral relationship. The Modi government has in fact categorically stated that there will be no bilateral meeting between Rajnath Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhry Nisar Ali. To make matters worse, JUD Chief Hafiz Saeed threatened to hold a countrywide protest against the visit saying, “I want to ask the Pakistani government will it add insult to injury to the wounds of Kashmiris by welcoming Rajnath who is responsible for the killings of innocent Kashmiris.”

While there is no doubt that the Modi government’s Pakistan policy has at times been found wanting, in this case, it is unfair to link Singh’s decision to attend the SAARC meet to its Pakistan policy. Not attending the SAARC meet would be counterproductive. It would not send any message to Pakistan, but would send the wrong message to other countries such as Bangladesh and Afghanistan with whom India’s ties have consistently strengthened. For long, India has been trying to build close economic ties and enhance integration with the countries in its neighborhood. New Delhi has also been keen to shed the notion that India’s SAARC policy is Pakistan-centric, and not going would have reinforced that notion. This is what India’s official spokesperson was trying to convey when he said: “The Home Minister is not travelling for a bilateral engagement with Pakistan, he is going for a SAARC related event. You know the importance that we attach to SAARC, to regional cooperation, to regional prosperity.”

While Singh will not have any bilateral meeting, he is likely to raise the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, during the SAARC meeting, and flag the issue of lack of progress in the Pathankot investigation and the Mumbai terror attack case. It remains to be seen what the outcome of the Indian home minister’s visit is, but it should certainly not be viewed as a favor to Pakistan, or capitulation of any sort.


Image: AFP-STR, Getty

Posted in , India, Pakistan, Peace, Politics, Terrorism

Tridivesh Singh Maini

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst. He is a senior research associate with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana. He is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (Winter 2016). He was also an Asia Society India-Pakistan Regional Young Leaders Initiative (IPRYLI) Fellow (2013-2014), and a Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai (November 2013-March 2014). His research interests include Indo-Pak relations, the role of border states in India's foreign policy and the New Silk Road. Maini is a regular contributor for The Millenium Post (New Delhi), The News (Lahore), The Friday Times (Lahore), The Global Times (Beijing) and The Diplomat. Maini has worked earlier with The Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, the Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore; and The Indian Express, New Delhi. While working with The Indian Express, Maini wrote a weekly column, 'Printline Pakistan'. He authored ‘South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs’, and co-authored ‘Humanity Amidst Insanity: Hope During and After the Indo-Pak Partition’ with Tahir Malik and Ali Farooq Malik. Maini is also one of the editors of ‘Warriors after War: Indian and Pakistani Retired Military Leaders Reflect on Relations between the Two countries, Past Present and Future’, published by Peter Lang (2011).

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2 thoughts on “SAARC Meet: Rajnath Visit No Favor to Islamabad

  1. Tridivesh:
    Here’s what I learned a while back:
    India-Pakistan relations cannot improve when Kashmir is on the boil.
    Best wishes,

  2. Geo -cultural impulses on both sides are deeply entrenched in the psyche of ruling elites and intellectuals in Pakistan and India. Kashmir is merely an offshoot of geo-cultural incompatibilities between the two countries. This I had discussed in greater details in my 1994 book titled Nuclear Politics in South Asia: In Search of an Alternative Paradigm. This was further extended to the interconnected issues of Kashmir and cross border terrorism, Kashmir and nuclear tangle in South Asia in my book titled India in the New South Asia(IB Tauris ,London, 2010).
    B.M. Jain
    Author of recently released book India-US Relations in the Age of Uncertainty( London and New York: Routledge, May 2016)
    EDitor-in-Chief, Indian JOurnal of Asian Affairs

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