[op-ed snap] The case for informal regional diplomacy’

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC

Mains level : Informal meetings may provide enhanced relationship with neighbors.


CONTEXT

Rather than pray for the success of SAARC, the new government in Delhi should double down on informal diplomacy that could help pave the way for more purposeful regional cooperation — both bilateral and multilateral.

Background

  • If Modi used the invitation in 2014 to signal his commitment to South Asian regionalism, he was also quick to see the limitations of SAARC (the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) at the Kathmandu summit in 2014.
  • The summit had failed to sign off on the connectivity agreements that were painfully negotiated by senior officials, because Pakistan chose to pull out at the last stage.
  • Apparently Rawalpindi was not ready for trade and economic cooperation with India.

Steps taken to enhance regional coperation

  • At Kathmandu, Modi recognised that South Asian regionalism can’t be allowed to become a hostage to Pakistan.
  • To be sure, Islamabad had the sovereign right to decide on the need, nature and pace of its integration with the rest of the subcontinent.
  • The only sensible course, then, is for the rest of the SAARC to move forward wherever they can and let Pakistan join the process whenever it feels comfortable.

Multilateral Mechanism

Since then Delhi has emphasised other multilateral mechanisms — including sub-regional cooperation between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal and trans-regional cooperation in the east — the littoral of the Bay of Bengal including Burma and Thailand.

Reviving bilateral engagements –

Modi also revived the bilateral engagement with countries like Sri Lanka that were constrained in the UPA years — thanks to Tamil Nadu’s veto over the engagement with Colombo.

Regular Office Visits to neighbour countries

  • Regular official visits to the neighbouring capitals have become the norm at all levels.
  • It has become the convention for any new foreign secretary to travel first to all the neighbouring capitals.

Focus on informal meetings

  • The Subcontinent can do with more of this kind of engagement — leaders seeing each other on short notice for informal consultations or just watch a cricket match or join a social or spiritual occasion.
  • Informal diplomacy in South Asia will make it easier for India to sustain high-level engagement with the neighbourhood.
  • These include pre-set multilateral summits — from BRICS and SCO to the ASEAN, G-20 and the UN — as well as annual meetings with friendly nations through the year.
  • Meanwhile, some of these multilateral summits could throw up the possibilities of a meeting with the Pakistani leadership.
  • If meetings with Pakistan’s leadership become routine and informal, Delhi will be able to prevent each encounter seem like a gladiatorial contest that must address all issues and produce joint statements, every word of which is analysed to death.

While Pakistan is a special case, informal high-level diplomacy could also help liberate the region from the stuffy and unproductive formalism of the SAARC.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations
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