Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly assessed in Kathmandu why the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) has failed to fulfil the high level of expectation. He spoke about a lot of pro-active moves by India at the 18th Summit of the regional body but yet pessimism had its way as the Saarc yet again hit the wall that stands unbreakable between India and Pakistan. [Saarc fails to take off, thanks to Pakistan's objection]
Does Pakistan also need a fresh head at the top to make reciprocal steps and help the beleaguered body crawl ahead? That country looks too much enmeshed in the past and unable to look ahead, despite all the new opportunities and possibilities the new age has opened. Pakistan's leaders are too weak to ignore their brittle and threatening political system and author a new beginning in South Asia, a region that demands a massive boost from various angles.
Is there a way for Saarc to go ahead at all?
Current Indian leadership is not burdened by history or party politics: Hence it can always go for a new beginning
India has only one option to find a way out of the stagnant state of affairs. The fresh leadership in New Delhi is not burdened by either history or party and is in a perfect position to push things and turn the Saarc into a viable engine of growth. If Pakistan, imprisoned by history and domestic politics, stands on the way, let's give it a royal ignorance.
Making sub-groups work in South Asia
To make South Asia move forward, India needs to find regions within the region. That is, to create sub-regional platforms of cooperation and make Pakistan irrelevant. India's geography is a boon for it is not only the largest country in the Saarc, but has proximity with all the member-states except Afghanistan.
India can set up three sub-groups: One with Sri Lanka and Maldives, another with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan and a third with Afghanistan
India will do well if it initiates setting up of three sub-regional groupings in South Asia. It can create a close club with Sri Lanka and Maldives in the maritime zone in the South, a grouping featuring Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh to the East and North-east and another bilateral one with Afghanistan in the Northwest.
Each group to address specific problems besides the common goals related to South Asia
Each of these groups can address their most relevant problems and concerns with boost to mutual trade being the common aim. Maritime trade and infrastructure can be the bigger framework for an India-Sri Lanka-Maldives grouping to work within while border infiltration and terrorism and China factor could be the driving force behind the club featuring India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.
Grouping with Afghanistan will be challenging but ultimately will work in India's favour
Making the platform with Afghanistan run will be a more challenging one because of the presence of Pakistan. But given the changing realities in Afghanistan, a country which has often received help from India, will be more a threat to Pakistan than India and a closer relation between India and Afghanistan to tackle the threats emanating in Kabul after the Western forces' withdrawal could double Islamabad's headache and make it patch up with New Delhi.
India will have to show big leadership skills to make such regionalism work
It is much easier said than done. But with the advent of Modi as the prime minister, the Indian establishment is now full of a fresh energy and no work might look impossible for it. It will require huge leadership skills for India to take such initiative and overcome bilateral threats and challenges but if it succeeds, history will remember Prime Minister Modi for his statesmanship.