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Pakistan seeks bigger Saarc to counter India’s influence

Persona non grata declared Indian diplomat leaves Pakistan

WASHINGTON: Pakistan is exploring the possibility of creating a greater South Asian economic alliance to counter India’s controlling hold on the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), diplomatic observers say.

A parliamentary delegation from Pakistan, which is now in New York, pitched this idea during its five-day visit to Washington last week.

“A greater South Asia is already emerging,” said Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, in one of his interactions with the media. “This greater South Asia includes China, Iran and the neighbouring Central Asian republics.”

He described the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as the key economic route linking South Asia with Central Asia. The Gwadar port, he pointed out, would be the nearest warm water port, not only for China but also for the land-locked Central Asian states.

“We want India to join this arrangement as well,” said Mr Hussain, an offer Indians are unlikely to accept as they are comfortable with the advantage that Saarc provides them.

Last month, India used its influence in Saarc to isolate Pakistan when it announced that it would not attend the regional group’s 19th summit, scheduled in Islamabad on Nov 15 and 16.

India cited Pakistan’s alleged involvement in the Sept 18 terrorist attack in Uri as the reason for its decision to boycott the summit. Pakistan strongly denies the Indian allegation and India has provided no evidence to support its claim so far. Yet three other Saarc nations — Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan — joined the boycott.

The boycott led to an indefinite postponement of the summit and exposed Pakistan’s isolation within the group where it once played a key role.

Among the eight Saarc nations, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are India’s strong allies while Bhutan, surrounded by India from all sides, is too small to resist any move from New Delhi.

The Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka have good ties with Pakistan, but they are not large enough to take on India.

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