It began with a whimper and ended with a whimper. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meet in Thimphu was as usual less about the grouping and more about Indo-Pak relations. Here, the most mincing of steps forward were taken when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani and agreed to resume the dialogue but not a composite one. The meet went along predictable lines, India wants more action against terror while Pakistan feels that India’s evidence of Lashkar chief Hafiz Sayeed’s involvement in the Mumbai carnage is more fiction than fact.
Mr Gilani has assured India that his country is serious about prosecuting the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. And then there was the usual gabfest about the need to resolve outstanding issues and normalise ties. Nothing new here, and not much is likely to come of it. But then again, apart from the fact that there were no overt hostilities between India and Pakistan, the meet did not seem to produce any trade pact or agreement. Very little seems to have been discussed about developments in the region despite the fact that Sri Lanka, for example, has gone through a tremendous upheaval. Or that Nepal is in the throes of a political crisis or that Bangladesh has seen political changes.
For Saarc, very few multilateral mechanisms have been effective, given that it has always been held hostage to India’s and Pakistan’s sensitivities. It is a pity that the Saarc forum has always been overshadowed by the bilaterals between the two countries, leaving the others out in the cold. It would have been understandable if anything positive had come of the Indo-Pak bilaterals, but so far it has always been one step forward and two backward. The latest one that comes after the long freeze post-Sharm el-Sheikh too yielded nothing though the spinmeisters on both sides have read much meaning into the tea leaves. The only positive outcome of the dialogue is that it lessens the scope for outsiders like the US to put their oar into the works. The agreement that the two foreign ministers must hold talks is indicative that we have slid right down the biggest snake on the snakes-and-ladders board and are starting from almost scratch.
As for what else happened at the Thimphu meet, no one seems to give a toss.