Indo-Pak hostility has affected SAARC: Karan Singh

His statement comes against the backdrop of ceasefire violations by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir and verbal duels between New Delhi and Islamabad.

July 19, 2015 02:51 am | Updated 02:51 am IST - NEW DELHI

Hostility between New Delhi and Islamabad has prevented the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) from taking off like the European Union (EU), said former Union Minister and Rajya Sabha member Karan Singh.

His statement comes against the backdrop of ceasefire violations by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir and verbal duels between New Delhi and Islamabad over consular issues. Trade barriers, absence of seamless travel and suspicion between India and Pakistan have been impediments in SAARC becoming as “successful” as the EU, on which it was modelled, Dr. Singh told The Hindu .

EU and its vision

“SAARC started off with a great promise. It was developed on the lines of the European Union. Our generation was brought up on the stories of the Hundred Years’ War, the conflicts between the Kingdom of England against the House of Valois, rulers of the Kingdom of France, and stories about the hundreds of thousands who perished on the war fields. But look at the countries now, you don’t know where Britain ends and where France begins, travel between the countries is seamless,” he said.

Even as the recent Greece crisis has raised questions about the efficacy of the EU, Dr. Singh said its success was a consequence of a détente between the countries in Europe. “Germany, Britain and France had the vision to solve the problems. Till India and Pakistan reach a détente, SAARC will not effectively take off. The basic problem right now is the animosity between the two,” Dr. Singh said.

No consensus

While India has begun to push for sub-regional agreements to keep the grouping relevant, absence of consensus between the members has left various issues hanging fire. Dr. Singh said choosing bilateral and trilateral agreements was an option till differences between the neighbours are buried.

“Agreements like the recent motor vehicle agreement between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) will be a boon for the region. It is a good thing if the whole region is involved, but till that time, there should be more such engagements,” he pointed out.

On the aggressive position taken by Islamabad on Kashmir following the meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at Ufa in Russia on the sidelines of the SCO summit, the author-politician said the immediate need for Pakistan was to focus on the threat that terrorism poses to its own people.

“The recent meeting between the two Prime Ministers was good, considering there was no expectation of a meeting or of a joint statement. But Pakistan has come to understand that terrorism, the ISIS, is a threat to them just as the anti-Indian Taliban is to us. More Pakistanis have died in terror attacks, so realisation is there that these terror groups are destroying them as well,” said Dr. Singh, the heir to the royal family of Jammu and Kashmir.

Cultural diplomacy

A former Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Singh, who held various portfolios as a Union Minister, said while India expands her presence globally through political and economic engagements, it also needs to focus on forging relations through cultural diplomacy.

“I compare diplomacy to the three rivers, the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Saraswati. Government-to-government engagements, the classic diplomacy, is like the Ganga; economic and commercial relations that are part of the political contact is like the Yamuna; and cultural diplomacy, people-to-people contact, is like the Saraswati. Cultural diplomacy has emerged as an important aspect of international relations,” he said.

India’s links with a vast number of countries that are part of the SAARC and the ASEAN, even China and Japan, date back to centuries and there have been cultural links and relations through Hinduism, he said. “Angkor Wat that attracts an astounding number of worshippers was originally founded as a Hindu temple; in Indonesia there is the Borobudur, the 9 Century Mahayana Buddhist Temple, which comes from the Sanskrit Buddha Vihara. Then there are India’s ties with other countries through Buddhism. India has not only had diplomatic relations through individuals but also through institutions.” Dr. Singh, who headed the Indian Council for Cultural Relations from 2005 to 2014, said, adding that India’s culture should be exhibited abroad through dance, music and the arts.

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