Written by C Raja Mohan
November 26, 2014
The PM had raised expectations that India would take the leadership of the region by his surprise invitation to all the Saarc leaders to attend his swearing-in ceremony in May. (Source: PTI photo)
For all its trappings of a multilateral organisation, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, whose leaders are gathering in Kathmandu this week, is only an aggregation of India’s bilateral relations with its neighbours. This is the reason why the world is focusing on what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to offer during the first Saarc summit that he is attending.
The PM had raised expectations that India would take the leadership of the region by his surprise invitation to all the Saarc leaders to attend his swearing-in ceremony in May. His visits to Bhutan and Nepal have reinforced those hopes. Modi, however, has a problem. He has inherited a dysfunctional Saarc, whose failures are rooted in geography and history.
As the largest country located at the heart of the subcontinent, India has borders with all its neighbours. Only two other members, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have a border with each other. It is no big surprise, then, that most of the regional trade is actually bilateral trade between India and its neighbours. So are the problems that come from a common border.
That takes us to the history of these frontiers. The partition of the subcontinent created new borders and territorial disputes within the subcontinent. Nearly seven decades later, India does not have settled borders with either Pakistan or Bangladesh. In the northwest, Kabul does not accept Islamabad’s claims that the Durand Line drawn by the British Raj between undivided India and the subcontinent at the end of the 19th century is the legitimate boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan.