Uccasaim, Goa: The failure of the Kathmandu SAARC Summit should not surprise. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempts to integrate energy grids and rail and road networks across South Asia countries were frustrated by Pakistan. Pakistan would obstruct any attempt by India to make SAARC meaningful. The reason for obstruction may vary from time to time but it usually doesn’t, being largely related to Jammu and Kashmir and the failed peace process. The added cause this time was Pakistan’s decision to engage the Hurriyat prior to the foreign secretaries’ talks despite being warned against by India. Pakistan has retaliated in Kathmandu.

Some weeks ago, this writer met a Pakistan diplomat at a gathering. Talk veered round to the advantage to Pakistan by facilitating India’s land trade with Afghanistan through its territory without compromising each country’s position on outstanding disputes. The diplomat understood the advantages clearly. But he said with typical Pakistani irrationality and bloody-mindedness, “Par hamari apki dushmani hai. Hum yeh kaise maan lain?” The diplomat’s chief lament was that India was not talking to Pakistan. It was a petulant lament, rather like a child demanding a mother’s attention, and breaking toys to get it. Pakistan fears that if it becomes business-as-usual with India, the Kashmir dispute would be forgotten. How is the obstructive attitude of Pakistan helping? India and China have also progressed on trade. They have the maturity to understand the importance of trade. But it does not mean India-China differences on the border have been settled. The attempt is to reduce differences and prevent hostilities from spiralling out of control.

It is increasingly clear that it is impossible to talk to Pakistan as a normal nation. Its foreign policy is centred round obstructing India. It will not permit the success of multilateral forums like SAARC. India must have to create another organisation which binds the South Asian countries barring Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has established cordial relations with most SAARC countries and they understand that he stands for development and progress. He should have no problem convincing them of the successes and imperatives of united action. India has to take a conscious decision to exclude Pakistan, and Iran could be an ally for trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia. In the East, Pakistan has no role to play. Engaging with East Asia makes economic and strategic sense.

The underlying reasons for connecting with South Asia bar Pakistan is as important as the act itself. India should make clear that it is not engaged or interested in isolating Pakistan. When Pakistan feels confident and is able to rise above bilateral disputes, it is welcome to join the new grouping. But till such time, the rest of South Asia should not suffer on account of Pakistan. It should not remain backward and be unable to take part in India’s rise because of Pakistan’s dog-in-the-manger attitude and in consequence hurt itself. It may be that the success of this venture would make Pakistan see light but that should not be the predominant aim or concern. The aim and concern should be to rise and succeed and make full use of the splendid opportunities offered by India.

It is this writer’s conviction that if Prime Minister Modi sells this vision to South Asian nations for integrated energy and communication networks excluding Pakistan, he would have no dearth of partners. India must become the leader of development, democracy and progress. Once Pakistan realizes that its obstructions are angering and outraging neighbours, it will fall in line. It does not follow that SAARC should be disbanded. Once India loses interest, it will die. India is a big factor in South Asia and indeed Asia and is too modest to come entirely into its own. It must shed its modesty a little and exercise power because it is good for South Asia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would perfectly understand what is being conveyed. He has done more than any prime minister in such a short time to convey the urgency about and opportunities available from India’s rise. He now needs to gun the motor for the uphill climb.