Pakistan and SAARC

Padmaja Murthy, Associate Fellow, IDSA


It was in 1985 that the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation was formed in Dhaka by seven countries comprising— Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Each of these countries had a specific set of expectations—some bilateral and some regional—from the association which were influenced by their political, economic and historical circumstances and situations. While some of these expectations were realistic others were ambitious sometimes even bordering on naïvete. With time, these expectations and apprehensions have changed with the regional and international, political and economic environment undergoing transformation.1 India and Pakistan in particular had joined with more apprehension rather than expectation.

Pakistan, in fact used the opportunity for fulfilling its foreign policy aims, particularly with regard to India. In this there has been a consistency in its approach. Further, SAARC's numerous meetings, including the summit meetings provided an opportunity for Pakistan to develop closer ties with all the member countries which would not have been otherwise possible. The SAARC platform has facilitated a continuous and constant interaction with the other member countries of the Association. Meanwhile SAARC also gave Pakistan a chance to use grievances of other countries against India to justify its anti- India stand.

On the other hand, SAARC and its numerous activities, in a sense, have kept Pakistan engaged positively in South Asia and specifically with India. This, in a situation where the relations between the two countries were strained and would not allow interaction at the bilateral level without drawing severe criticism from certain domestic quarters. However, the same criticism is toned down to a certain extent when the interaction takes place at a regional level through a regional framework in the name of a regional organisation like SAARC. This helped to moderate Pakistan's views on co-operation with India and other member countries and a section of the intelligentsia there has been able to appreciate this interaction.

This essay focusses on Pakistan. Why did Pakistan join SAARC? How has it used the SAARC forum to advance its bilateral differences with India? How far is Pakistan sincere about its regional commitments? Did SAARC in any way influence Pakistan? The essay attempts to answer these questions and in doing so aims to understand the dynamics of the relationship of Pakistan with SAARC.

Pakistan Joins SAARC

While the reasons for joining the regional association are stated to be establishing lasting peace and friendship and pooling the resources of the region for the overall development of the member countries, the truth lies beyond all these. Pakistan was initially apprehensive of joining the regional association primarily for two reasons. First, it felt that the forum would further the hegemonistic domination of India over the region's states in an institutionalised manner. Secondly, Pakistan was also weary of deeper involvement in the South Asian region since it might cast a doubt on the credibility and seriousness of its efforts to develop closer ties with the Islamic countries of West Asia. However, it could not reject the Bangladeshi proposal whose objectives were unexceptionable.2 Pakistan finally decided to join the forum because it was unwilling to isolate itself regionally. Further according to an observer from Pakistan, the regional advantage of participating in SAARC is that the arrangement could, if the need arose, "come to deflect the weight of India" vis-à-vis its smaller South Asian partners.3 Thus it felt that by being inside the forum it could prevent India from assuming a hegemonistic role. Pakistan however wanted a modest beginning with only a few areas of co-operation, as a more ambitious start might amount to putting "too much sail on a small hull."4 It therefore proposed that the efforts towards formation of the regional association should be through a step by step approach.

The statements of Pakistan President, Gen Zia, made prior to the beginning of the first SAARC summit held in Dhaka in December 1985, bring out some of these important aspects.5 He said that Pakistan's participation in the summit would not in any way affect its relations with the Muslim countries and that it would maintain its national identity at all costs and continue to play a positive role in the Middle East, since Pakistan enjoyed an important place in the South Asian region as well as in the Western Asia. He emphasised that Pakistan would continue its policy of friendly relations with other countries of the world without compromising its ideology, independence and integrity. Regional co-operation, he said, was not a new phenomenon and such alliances existed in almost all the regions of the world. He said, "We are determined to follow our policies as an ideological state and realise fully our responsibilities with regard to our independence and integrity."

There seemed to be an attempt to be defensive about the whole exercise of joining SARC (South Asian Regional Co-operation) and the clarifications that it would maintain its identity etc stems from its suspicions of the forum and this is naturally with regard to the role India would be playing.6 Pakistan also seems to be telling its friends in West Asia that joining the regional association will not lead to its abandoning responsibilities towards them nor would its quest for closer relations with them be diluted. Further it is also to be noticed that by the time the preparatory meetings for regional co-operation began in 1981 the cold war had entered its second phase with the USSR entry into Afghanistan. In such circumstances Pakistan was thus a very important ally for USA in its cold war fight against USSR. The statements bring out that SARC will get only that much importance that it deserves and that the rest of the world is equally, if not more important. The commitments that it would give to the regional association would therefore be limited with these considerations.

The President also made comments regarding economic co-operation. He said, Pakistan would maintain its pace of development in the economic field despite co-operation with SARC countries and hoped that the summit would strengthen Pakistan's economic relations with other countries of the region. There was further clear awareness that the regional association had no security ideology or military connotation and was basically for the peaceful exploitation of the economic and technical resources of the member countries for the upliftment of the people.7

An examination of the press comments on the first SAARC summit bring out the line of thinking held in Pakistan with regard to its expectations and apprehensions from the summit. There was a general consensus that the summit would provide an opportunity for the leaders to understand each other and the problems of the area more rationally. Thus, it would be a step forward, it was felt, if the participants came out with fewer misgivings about each other and a firmer resolve to overcome hurdles in the way of regional co-operation. According to press comments, the problems, however, came from the behaviour of India. With India behaving as a 'big aggressive brother', almost all the states in the area were deemed to have a serious security problem. They felt that unless there was a qualitative change in the situation, no meaningful progress could be made to boost regional co-operation.8

It was emphasised that Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan had very good, if not ideal, relations with each other. However none of the six states, could be said to be enjoying tension free relations with New Delhi. Specifying a little more, it was opined, that of all the differences it was the state of Indo-Pak relations that had kept political temperatures high and were not conducive to regional co-operation. While discussing Indo-Pak relations the press delved deep into their differences, ranging from the Kashmir problem to India's concerns of Pakistan's nuclear programme and the induction of sophisticated weapons. It was stated that Pakistan was not prepared to concede hegemony by surrender of its independent policies and compromising its security and sovereignty. Thus it was felt that the key to any broader arrangement for co-existence in the region first lay with Pakistan and India establishing tension free relations and resolving their differences.9

It became evident that just as the blame for the existence of a conflictual relationship was put on India, the onus for improvement in the state of affairs must also rest in New Delhi. Some were of the opinion that Rajiv Gandhi's accession to power had raised hopes for a change. Such an approach clearly brought out that Pakistan would view the regional association and its activities through the prism of its bilateral relations with India. The bottom line of the press comments was that unless efforts are made to resolve political problems in the region and specifically between India and Pakistan, trust and goodwill would not develop.

This point was reiterated in the inaugural speech of President Zia where he stressed that the process of contacts and regional co-operation needed, "to be assisted and accelerated by concurrent actions in the political field."10 An interesting comment made by Gen.Zia was that the success in the endeavour, "could serve to inhibit the great power rivalry and restrain their actions in South Asia." This was an admission of the fact that the superpower role in the region had more to do with internal problems of the region and less with the Cold War. It also, implied that their presence would continue as long as peace does not prevail in the region. He also expressed the hope that the member nations acting together could exercise a collective influence far greater than the sum of their individual contributions. An international role for SAARC was thus visualised.

It is important to note that despite Pakistan's concerns regarding India's role, there was a clear realisation of the enormous problems faced by the South Asian region. President Zia in his speech noted that the region's population constituted one fifth of the humanity and that there was need to eradicate poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy.11 In Dhaka, he discounted that there was fear of Indian domination of the regional association. Expressing optimism that India's attitude would be positive towards the regional association which would in turn influence their bilateral relations, he dismissed the possibility of the other six members joining hands against India within the forum. Since the decisions would be taken unanimously, chances of domination would be eliminated, he felt.12 This comment was prompted by apprehensions on the part of India that the forum would be used to put pressure on it collectively. Inspite of this statement of Gen. Zia, the media felt that, Pakistan and India were in the SAARC not because they saw any intrinsic value in such regional co operation but because of their perceived need to balance each other.13

Therefore, on the eve of the SAARC summit, it was clear that Pakistan had expectations from India and incidentally these arose from their apprehensions over the hegemonistic role India could play. This line of thinking was to dominate Pakistan's attitude towards the working of SAARC in the coming years and as seen in the way the regional association has conducted itself, it was indeed a major limitation on the efforts to tap the region's potential through collective endeavour. Most importantly, by solely calling upon India for a change in attitude, it liberated itself from the requirement to do any serious introspection. A major drawback was that Pakistan clung to its rigid set of views even when the situation in the international political and economic environment changed with the end of Cold War, and the domestic environment changed with democracy in Nepal, Bangladesh and within Pakistan. At the same time, the regional environment changed with an improvement in bilateral relations between India and the other five member of SAARC.

Influence of SAARC on Indo-Pakistan Dialogue

One of the major foreign policy aims of Pakistan is to have parity with India in all respects, specifically to attain a bargaining position on the dispute over Kashmir. According to Pakistan, the Kashmir issue is central to its relations with India.14 It has never lost an opportunity to raise the issue at various international forum, contrary to the policy of India which has preferred to settle all issues in a bilateral forum as agreed upon by both the countries in the Shimla Agreement of 1972. Surprisingly, Pakistan has never raised the Kashmir issue directly in the official SAARC summit level meetings.15 It is true, that according to the SAARC Charter, bilateral relations cannot be raised, but it is indeed heartening to see that Pakistan has adhered to it in letter, since there are many international fora where bilateral issues are not to be raised but Pakistan has violated them to raise the Kashmir issue.

An important question which then arises is why Pakistan has not raised the Kashmir issue at the summit meetings? The aim of Pakistan in raising the issue at international fora has been to garner attention. International fora have so many international issues and problem areas to address that Kashmir becomes only one of the issues for them to cater to. It has to be brought to the notice of the world again and again. But in SAARC the issue comes into focus without anybody raising it. It is a small grouping unlike other international fora and consists of only seven members with Pakistan and India's bilateral issues after dominating more than the associations activities. With low bilateral level interaction, especially at the highest level between these two countries, the summit meetings seem the appropriate place for the two leaders of the rival countries to meet and discuss issues. When they meet, naturally the focus automatically shifts to Kahsmir. Pakistan would not make the folly of raising the issue officially at the SAARC forum and be accused of violating the SAARC Charter and thereby shift the focus from real issues to procedural wrangling. It would not gain from such an exercise.

Examining the events that take place at the sidelines, outside the official SAARC forum, it is indeed surprising that each of the summit meetings has provided an opportunity for dialogue to be held between both the countries. Herein also lies the vital contribution made by the regional association, in facilitating such an interaction on a continuous basis. At the very first summit meeting at Dhaka in 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President Zia met informally and discussed bilateral issues. This was followed by a bilateral visit to India by Gen.Zia where the discussions continued.16

Prior to the second SAARC summit held in Bangalore, India, in November 1986, the air was tense in the sub-continent. This was to do with reports that India had moved its troops in the western borders and was preparing to attack Pakistan. Responding to these reports, leaders in Pakistan said that they were prepared to face any eventuality and that the armed forces were fully alive to the situation.17 They held that though the troop movement on either side of the borders was not an abnormal situation, this time the troop movement on the India side was very heavy which had no parallel. Against this background, the whole gamut of Indo-Pak relations was discussed by the press and the academia. President Zia then conveyed that the situation in Siachen glacier could be described as a stalemate.18 He also said that Pakistan was being unjustly blamed for the situation in Punjab. Foreign Minister Sahabzada Yaqub Khan on his way to Bangalore to attend the summit said that there was no immediate possibility for removal of tension between India and Pakistan. He however said that availing of the opportunity of the SAARC conference, "we will review the situation."19

Commenting on the effect of these events on the SAARC summit, a Pakistani newspaper wrote that, "India cannot go to war on the eve of the second SAARC summit but the deployment will certainly cast a shadow on it—and this could be intended. South Asian nations living in India's neighbourhood wish to engage India in a process of normalisation through SAARC projects working as a guarantee against hostile intent . But India has its intents on other objectives objectives..."20

The summit also provided an opportunity for the foreign ministers of both countries to meet and review the developments in their relations since President Zia and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had met in December the previous year in Dhaka and later, in India in 1985. They discussed trade and the reports of concentration of Indian troops on Pakistan borders. On Nov 14, prior to the summit, Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Mr. Abdul Sattar declared that his country would be very happy to sign the Non-proliferation Treaty the same day that India did so. He further said that Pakistan was prepared to accept any bilateral, regional or global non-discriminatary inspection system to satisfy one and all that Pakistan's nuclear programme was for peaceful purposes.21

While reporting on the second SAARC summit, the press in Pakistan was very categorical in observing that, "The success of SAARC largely depends on the ability of Pakistan and India to have a normal relationship with each other." The summit was analysed against the backdrop of Indo-Pak relations which were reported to be at the lowest ebb since the 1971 conflict. Comments were also directed at India's attitude towards some of the smaller neighbours and that by trying to cultivate them India was trying to break the anti-India "gang of four" i.e. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.22

The summit, however concluded on a positive note. At the close of his visit to India, Prime Minister Junejo described his discussions with Rajiv Gandhi as purposeful and said they would serve to clear the air between the two countries. He had been reassured that there was no substance in the reports of unusual troop movement since the Indian army normally went for winter exercises during that time of the year but that troop movements even for this purpose had yet to take place and that the other side would be notified as per the understanding among the two countries in case of unusual troop movement. Other issues discussed include drug trafficking, Kashmir, training of Sikh terrorists by Pakistan, etc.23

Observing that such conferences provide a chance to discuss regional and other matters Prime Minister Junejo said, "We also get a chance to discuss individual issues. These meetings also provide opportunities for formal and informal discussions." Even the media was almost unanimous in expressing that the Bangalore summit by bringing the Prime Ministers of the two States together, may have somewhat helped in clearing the air and the SAARC, in the long run may be expected to create a better climate of trust and co operation . They also added however, that as long India and Pakistan, the two major States of the region remained suspicious of each others intentions, the prospects of multilateral co- operation would remain rather limited. Some felt that while India for its part fears, a gang up, against it by its smaller neighbours, they, on the other side, feared Indian hegemony. At the same time they welcomed SAARC "because the concept of regional co operation is a major step towards keeping South Asia insulated against super power machinations."24

By the end of the summit the cause of anxiety had diminished sufficiently for some papers to report that, "the Prime Minister (Mr. Junejo) himself acknowledged that the Indian troop movements were reported by western media in an exaggerated manner and actual facts were quite different."25 This bilateral issue was however raised indirectly at the summit, when Prime Minister Junejo, in his address, proposed to member countries of the SAARC to agree to notify troop movements of a significant nature to one another.26

The third summit at Kathmandu in November 1987 did not bring out Indo-Pakistan bilateral differences as much as it brought out the manner in which Cold War politics influenced the positions held by both on issues concerning SAARC. This was to do with the admission of Afghanistan into SAARC. While India welcomed it, Pakistan clarified that it was not in principle against the membership of Afghanistan but that it would support it when the country regained its sovereignty and independence with the withdrawal of foreign troops. Pakistan was of the opinion that through becoming the member of SAARC, the Afghanistan government was trying to gain recognition. No decision was taken since consensus could not be arrived at by the member countries.27

It needs to be mentioned that the summit was held in the month of November and it was in July that the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord had been agreed upon.28 This aspect was surely highlighted in the media reports which said that as long as India does not develop the habit of establishing bilateral relations on the basis of equality, SAARC would not be able to achieve any positive, solid or useful results. They opined that India was following a policy of establishing its supremacy and domination in the region and was striving at the ultimate reduction of Pakistan to the same level to which it had already brought other member states.29 They felt that in due course SAARC would be expected to take up political issues which keep the members of the grouping at a distance from one another. Further that quiet diplomacy at summits could lead to solutions to bilateral problems which would contribute to meaningful regional cooperation.30

The fourth SAARC summit in December 1988 was held in Islamabad in a situation were the bilateral relations between the two countries were said to be showing promise of improvement. Pakistan had witnessed the conclusion of democratic elections and Benazir Bhutto had come to power. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi extended his stay for a few hours after the conclusion of the summit meetings. The two countries signed three agreements relating to avoidance of double taxation on mutual trade, promotion of cultural exchanges and agreement on prohibition of attack on nuclear installations. Prime Minister Bhutto welcomed the forum of SAARC for having made the visit of Indian Prime Minister possible and hoped that more such visits would follow. She said that with the signing of the three agreements a momentum for peace between the two countries had begun after sixteen years.31 However the media was again reiterating that it was the Indian attitude which was the root cause of all the distrust and that it was India's responsibility to remove this distrust. The Indo-Pak issues dominated, and the Kashmir issue came up again but this time however the air was not tense.32

At the Fifth summit at Male in November, 1990, Indo-Pak issues were again in focus. The Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Chandra Shekhar met and reiterated their positions on Kashmir. They agreed that the disputes should be resolved peacefully. They set the date for the meeting of the foreign secretaries. Meanwhile Ms. Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister regretted the failure of the government to raise the Kashmir issue. She said that though the "bilateral issues are not usually deliberated upon, the explosive issue of....the massacre of Muslims in Kashmir....are a concern of the whole SAARC region and are being condemned by the whole world." Thus it is evident that the opposition made it an issue in the domestic politics of the country. She recollected how her government had put the Kashmir issue on the forefront and that the present government was not doing enough.33

At the 1990 Male Summit, Nawaz Sharif declared that no peace could be achieved in the region and nor could SAARC achieve its full potential unless the disputes and differences between member states were resolved peacefully on the basis of justice and equity. Thus, he said, "we should eliminate the root causes of suspicion and tension in the region. We also believe that time has come to move forward to a stage where SAARC provides tangible benefits to our peoples. If this does not happen soon, cynicism may set in and our organisation may lose its credibility and momemtum."34 Surely the reference to, 'root causes of tension' was directed at the Kashmir issue. The press in Pakistan welcomed the meeting of the leaders of India and Pakistan and said that the deadlock had been broken. But they upheld that it was India which had to clear the atmosphere.35

The 1991 day long SAARC summit was held in Colombo. Since the time was very short the Prime Ministers of both the countries could not meet to discuss bilateral issues.36 However, it needs to be noted that the 1991 summit as planned initially was postponed because the King of Bhutan could not attend due to some domestic compulsions. However, the blame was put on India that it had purposefully postponed the summit. Thus the rescheduled summit was held in the shadow of an anti-India atmosphere where the country was accused of trying to establish its hegemony.37

The Seventh SAARC summit was held in 1993 in Dhaka. Indian and Pakistani leaders exchanged views and the usual issues were raised again. Prime Minister Narsimha Rao and Nawaz Sharif met on the sidelines of the summit but this time the focus was on the Indo-Bangla dialogue regarding the Ganges issue.38

The eighth SAARC summit was held in New Delhi in May 1995. President Leghari represented Pakistan at the summit. Being held in New Delhi, it was to be expected that bilateral issues including the Kashmir problem would naturally come up for discussion in the sidelines. The press in Pakistan brought this out clearly in their reporting. One of the papers said "President Leghari has accomplished the mission for which he has gone to the SAARC summit. He has presented the country's principled stance on relations with India in clear and forceful terms, comprehensively bringing home the message that the Kashmir is the core issue of discord between the SAARC countries...." As seen in the earlier years, the address of the leaders of Pakistan did not mention the Kashmir issue directly but did so indirectly. President Leghari stressed the need for resolving the unsettled political issues which he said stood in the way of SAARC moving forward. He regretted the emergence of certain heavyweights who arrogated to themselves the right to decide for others what essentially served their national interest. The movements for self determination, freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights had spread across the globe and can no longer be denied, he said.39

The press once again commented on the failure of SAARC as a dynamic institution because of the existence of historical disputes among member nations and the mistrust affecting their relations. Some of these comments opined that, "The amendment of the SAARC Charter, allowing raising of bilateral issues, may salvage the organisation from neglect and apathy."40

The ninth SAARC summit in 1997 held in Maldives, was very historic in terms of the Indo-Pak bilateral relations. The meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Gujral held on the sidelines was very warm and they were able to break the deadlock. It was because of their efforts that the dialogue could be restarted. The Foreign Secretaries of both the countries met in Islamabad on June 19-23, 1997 and spelt out eight outstanding issues of concern to be addressed by both the countries. The present foreign secretary level talks and the composite dialogue taking place between the two countries is the result of the meeting which was facilitated by the Male Summit.41

The 1998 Indo-Pak talks held in Colombo against the background of the nuclear tests conducted by both the countries received a great deal of worldwide attention, not because of the tenth SAARC summit proceedings, but because it was in the SAARC forum that the two countries were meeting for the first time after the tests. This meeting proved to be a contrast to the one which was held in Male the previous year. To say that the meeting was a failure would be an understatement. Adopting hardline positions the two countries were basically trying to address their domestic audiences where a euphoria had been built up following the tests.42 The opportunity provided by SAARC summit could not be utilised for breaking the bilateral deadlock due to differing interpretations of the implementation of the composite dialogue agreed upon by both the countries earlier in June 1997.

It is thus observed that the SAARC forum has given an opportunity to both nations to maintain a continuity in their bilateral dialogue. This valuable contribution of the SAARC process has been recognised by the Pakistani leaders themselves and they have acknowledged it many times. Even while the composite dialogue presently takes place between the two countries, and they are having bilateral meeting after many years, there is a silent acknowledgement that they have been continuously meeting at the various SAARC forum. Whatever might be the outcome of the present composite dialogue, the countries will again definitely get a chance to meet at the highest level in the eleventh SAARC summit to be held in Kathmandu, Nepal in 1999. As regards the Kashmir issue it has come up every time without the need for Pakistan to officially raise it. To that extent too, the SAARC process has helped to implement Pakistan's foreign policy.

It is very difficult to answer if the SAARC informal meetings have in any way helped in bringing the two countries closer to each other in resolving their bilateral differences. One can safely say that while it might not have brought the two countries closer it has at least prevented their relations from deteriorating further. At times of crisis, it has helped to diffuse the short-term misunderstandings, which are only possible, when the heads of the countries meet to give confidence to the people. Similarly, the meetings have helped to restart and give direction to the often deadlocked official bilateral dialogue.

Pakistan's Commitments to SAARC

If the SAARC Charter and its objectives are examined, it is evident that in fact, Pakistan has compiled with them in letter if not in spirit. The SAARC charter prohibits the raising of bilateral issues Pakistan has never raised the bilateral issues directly. It is only indirectly, as seen in the previous section that it has said that bilateral issues and tensions in the region should be addressed first and the core issues should be resolved before any meaningful regional co-operation takes place. In saying so Pakistan is expressing its viewpoint and cannot be faulted for doing so. The other member countries too have also have expressed such viewpoints at various points of time.

A brief analyses of the various views expressed by Pakistan at the summit meetings on some of the issues bring out that it is very much aware of the potential of the regional association. It also indicates the direction in which Pakistan wants the association to move.

Social Issues

Pakistan considers the SAARC document a landmark in facilitating an improvement in the future of the people of the subcontinent. It believes that together the region should strive to ameliorate the social and economic conditions in their respective countries by resolving the problems of poverty, illiteracy, hunger and disease.43 Further the member countries could profit greatly from one another's experience in these matters.44 At the fourth SAARC summit in 1988 held in Islamabad, a programme entitled SAARC 2000 had been adopted. It aimed to meet the basic needs of all the people of the region though long term planning with targets being fixed for the year 2000 in the national development plans of the member states. It would cover such basic requirements as food, shelter, education, primary health care, population planning and environmental protection.45 Pakistan stated that a particular area of concern was the situation of children especially with regard to their health and literacy. It welcomed the decision to designate 1990 as the "SAARC Year of the Girl Child" and appreciated the work being undertaken to bring women into the mainstream of the development efforts.46 It was Pakistan which proposed that the year 1993 be declared as the "SAARC Year of the Disabled Persons" in order to provide an opportunity to initiate activities of collective nature for the disabled to be brought into the mainstream of national life as useful citizens. The proposal to harmonise policies in the the spheres of health and population planning was welcomed by Pakistan.47

Promoting Greater Understanding

Pakistan has claimed that the common commitment to the United Nations Charter and the Non-aligned Movement provided a sound basis for the consolidation of good neighbourly relations.48 It felt that constant interaction, promoting meaningful contacts, and disseminating greater knowledge about each other would lead to better mutual understanding. It felt that the member countries in South Asia should agree to notify one another on significant troops movement. That further they could also agree to invite observers when the movements exceed an agreed threshold.49 It welcomed the move to broadcast simultaneously from all the SAARC capitals the inauguration of the summit in 1987 held in Kathmandu. These programmes it felt would disseminate information, bridge the communication gap and dispel the fog of ignorance.50 Pakistan strongly felt that the decision to exempt Supreme court judges and members of the national parliament from visa requirements for travel within the region was a positive step. It thus considered the introduction of the SAARC Travel Document as an achievement.

Nuclear Weapons

Pakistan has suggested that steps to banish nuclear weapons should be spelt out by the SAARC forum and that a collective pledge renouncing the threat, or use of force, against one another should be taken by the members.51 Since all the countries favour arms limitation and are opposed to nuclear weapons, the same should be said in clear terms. On its part, Pakistan has expressed its willingness to join a meaningful dialogue in this direction.52 During the 1987 summit in Kathmandu it had proposed that the members could consider a regional agreement placing a comprehensive ban on nuclear explosion tests, since none of the countries had said that they intended to produce such weapons.53 It had also proposed that countries should consider ways of limiting arms expenditure and seek regional solutions for curbing the arms race and the danger of nuclear proliferation and war, especially in an international environment when the Cold War had ended, bringing a sea change in international relations.54 In 1990, Pakistan had stated that the global disarmament process which has been slow and partial, must be supplemented by efforts at the regional level. At the 1991 sixth summit at Colombo, it stated that it had proposed consultations among the United States, the Soviet Union, China, India and Pakistan to discuss the issue of nuclear proliferation in South Asia. Along with this, it had also proposed a regime for ensuring that the region remain free of all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.55 At the tenth SAARC summit in Colombo, the situation had changed with both the countries having conducted nuclear tests two months prior to the summit.56


Pakistan firmly believed that it was with the establishment of peace and stability in each of the member contries, and in the region as a whole, that conditions for better lives of the people in the present and even better lives for the next and coming generation could be created.57 It felt that the commitment to peace should be woven into the bilateral relationships in the region and this should form the bedrock of the regions multilateral co-operation.58 At the third summit it stated that the countries should behave towards neighbours as they would like others to behave towards them, refraining from actions that they would want others to eschew.59 At the fifth summit in Male in 1990 it very categorically stated that the winds of change taking place in the rest of the world with the end of Cold War did not seem to be affecting the South Asian region. It was of the view that SAARC could not achieve its full potential unless the disputes and differences among member states were solved peacefully on the basis of justice and equality. Thus, with political will there was need to eliminate the root causes of suspicion and tensions in the region.60 At the 1991 summit, Pakistan stated that peace and stability was necessary for economic and social progress. That lasting peace could be assured if the member states abide by the principles of the UN charter, fulfil the commitments undertaken by the members bilaterally and internationally and settle the disputes peacefully on the basis of justice and fair play.61 In 1993, it again stated that SAARC can play an effective role when the member states resolve all outstanding issues.62

At the eighth SAARC summit in 1995 held at New Delhi, Pakistan was represented by President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, who came out quite openly, "The fact is that our association has not taken off. The suspicious and insecurity generated by the unsettled political issues in our region stand in the way of SAARC moving forward at the pace that it should be." He suggested that the member states of SAARC should use the platform of the association in order to collectively help narrow the political differences between members.He seemed to suggest a change in the charter so that contentious political issues could be resolved, as the charter clearly states that such issues are not to be raised.63

However, it was at the Tenth SAARC summit in Colombo that Pakistan put forward a detailed proposal entitled Peace, Security and Development. The proposal had three aspects to it for resolving contentious issues. First, there should be a sincere bilateral dialogue. Second, in case the dialogue fails, a high council comprising of SAARC Foreign Ministers would examine the causes of tension that threaten regional peace and if need be, they could mediate for a reconciliation. The last concerns the convening of South Asian Security and Development Conference to discuss issues of peace, security and economic development. This, the proposal held, would lead to an agreement on renunciation of the threat or use of force for peaceful settlement of disputes.64

Economic Cooperation

Pakistan clearly realised that there were potential benefits of participation in the world economy, and that South Asia had a stake in reversing the projectionist trade barriers, restoring monetary stability, and resolving the debt crisis.65 It welcomed the decision which sought to concert South Asian views on international economic issues. More specifically, on the need for joint action in international fora so that together the region could safeguard its common interests on vital issues of trade and monetary reforms.66 However, it was at the fourth SAARC summit in Islamabad in 1988 that it expressed in detail its views on the economic aspect of co-operation. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto stated that the region being home to one fifth of the humanity, constituted a vast internal market for goods and services of every kind and the region had the potential to become one of the great centres of economic power in the world. However, the global economic environment was not conducive to the rapid development of the poorer countries. Further, the North-South dialogue aimed at attaining equilibrium and justice in international economic relations had been deadlocked for too long. However an important element of the global economic reform was greater South-South co-operation. In this context it was opined that co-operation under SAARC was of vital importance and that it assumed an international dimension.67

At the seventh SAARC summit held in Dhaka, Pakistan welcomed and endorsed the objectives of SAPTA. It stated that trade and economic co-operation should form the bedrock for any organisation for regional co-operation.68 It stated that resource constraint was the main hurdle on the key issues of financial resources and technology transfer. It hoped that the South Asian Development Fund would finance studies for projects that are of common interest.69

International Security Environment

Pakistan was of the view that the South Asian countries, acting in concert, could exercise a collective influence far greater than the sum of their individual contributions. That successful regional co-operation could serve to inhibit great power rivalry and restrain their action in South Asia and the adjacent regions of the world. In this way South Asia could make vital contribution to international peace and security, and assist in the emergence of a more equitable political and economic order in the world.70 It suggested that the SAARC Secretariat should establish contact with the ASEAN Secretariat and discuss the modalities by which the two associations could benefit from each other's experience.71


Pakistan has reiterated its belief in terrorism being a problem which warrants co-operation. It has stated its condemnation of all acts of violence against innocent people. Pakistan has declared itself open to cooperation in any form and at any level among the SAARC countries to eliminate the threat of terrorism.72 Thus, it welcomed the conclusion of SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism. This, it felt proclaimed the firm commitment of the governments of the SAARC countries to give no quarter to anyone charged of terrorism in any South Asian country.73 Stating in very clear terms it said that the member countries must not permit the abuse of their territory as a sanctuary for launching platform by criminals to perpetrate heinous acts in other states.74 It expressed that the use of terrorism for the achievement of political aims was a concern which it shared with all countries of the region.75

Drug Production and Trafficking

Pakistan has expressed its resolute support for a concerted SAARC strategy on the drug problem and categorically stated that there was no place for those engaged in the illicit production and trafficking of drugs. Pakistan had said that it was honoured to be appointed as the first co-ordinator of the technical committee on prevention of drug trafficking and drug abuse.76 It stressed that the country was participating in a global campaign to tackle this problem, since Pakistan wanted to eliminate illegal production of opium, to wipe out trafficking, to deter the criminal, to treat the victim.77 It considered the SAARC Convention on Drug Control signed in 1990 at the Male summit as an important milestone in the evolution of regional co-operation.78


Pakistan welcomed the decision to establish a SAARC Secretariat and locate it in Kathmandu.79 It appreciated the work of the Technical Committees who continued to develop and implement programmes and projects.80 It was optimistic that the South Asian Food Security Reserve, though modest in size, would supplement national stocks and help member states tide over emergencies which often afflict the region due to the vagaries of nature.81

Pakistan stressed the need to evolve a common strategy to forestall and prepare for natural disasters which would enable to take appropriate measures to minimise death and destruction and co operate to provide relief assistance when disaster strikes.82 It has stressed on regional co-operation for facing the problem of increasing degradation of the environment.83 Pakistan expressed happiness that SAARC Regional Study on Environment had been finalised .It expressed concern that the mad rush for development and industrialisation could be dangerous for the future generations.84

There is no doubt at all that Pakistan was aware of the immense potential of the regional association, in all the varied fields. It has proposed many important initiatives in the social field and was justifiably proud that the SAARC 2000—Basic Needs proposal was adopted at the Islamabad summit in 1988. It was also conscious of the fact that in the changed international economic and political environment, regional co-operation was not a question of choice for the developing countries but one of necessity. Pakistan was explicit on the need to have a common stand at the international forum on economic issues. In the many proposals that it put forward again and again regarding nuclear restraint and disarmament, it was advocating regional solutions to the problems which India has primarily considered of global concern, requiring global non-discriminatory solutions. It is not difficult to see that while talking of arms control, disarmament, nuclear restraint, and peace, Pakistan had basically one country in mind-India. None of the other South Asian countries have anything to do at all with nuclear issue. Pakistan was using the regional forum for addressing its bilateral differences with India. Again while referring to the need to discuss contentious issues in the SAARC forum, it was basically eyeing India, for Pakistan had many a times stated that the only country in the region which had bilateral problems with the rest, was India. While talking of peace, as the years progressed, Pakistan became more vocal on the need to solve the differences first. Whereas earlier the call was for having peaceful relations in the region, it slowly shifted to the need of using the SAARC process and platform to solve the differences. The grand culmination was in the peace, security and development proposal which it put forward in the tenth SAARC summit

However inspite of having a vision for SAARC in terms of activities etc, its stand that peace should precede regional cooperation is a handicap. By peace it clearly meant the core problem of dispute with India which it considers to be—Kashmir. All things seem to stop here. As regards the Convention on Terrorism it is difficult for Pakistan as well as the other member countries to really co operate because, they have not been able to define "terrorist", in the first instance. Thus, even though Pakistan says in many words that it will not allow its territory to be the launching pad for terrorists, it continues to train terrorists to be sent to India. Similarly while it very well understands the need for regional economic cooperation and says that it supports SAPTA, it has not granted MFN status to India. It was a very reluctant participant of SAPTA and as in other issues strongly feels that peace should precede regional economic cooperation.

In justifying its viewpoint Pakistan cites the example of the European Union. However, a closer look at EU clearly shows that co-operation was not built on a bed of roses of peace but on thorny differences and deep suspicion. It was co-operation which blunted the thorns and finally threw them away. It might be surprising to note that the European Coal and Steel Community established in 1951, was essentially a means of integrating and supervising the means of war making capacity, thus making it physically impossible for member countries to go to war with each other. France wanted more political integration, but somehow it became clear that a direct assault on national sovereignty would not be welcome. It was only then that efforts began to be channelled to the economic field. Thus peace did not precede co-operation. In EU, it was the mechanism provided by the co operative efforts which led to the establishment of peace. The EEC (European Economic Community) provided regular interaction on the economic aspects and thus linked their prosperity. If one were to sit and solve all misunderstandings among the member countries first, one would never start to co operate. For, as nations interact continuously, while old differences get sorted out, new ones arise.

SAARC's Influence on Pakistan

Inspite of its disability to see the regional forum through the prism of its bilateral relations with India, the SAARC has influenced Pakistan in many ways. First and foremost it has engaged Pakistan in a continuous informal dialogue with India. This had its great importance, the nature of which has already been discussed in the first section.

Secondly SAARC has facilitated regular continuous interaction at the highest level between Pakistan and the other smaller member countries. Had it not been for SAARC, surely Pakistan would not have interacted with them in the manner it has been doing. In thirteen years, SAARC has held ten summits. After the first SAARC summit, President Zia had visited Maldives on a bilateral official visit. With time it developed working relations with Nepal and Bhutan also. It sympathised with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh on their bilateral differences with India. Initially it built on the anti-India factor, since all most all the member countries had some or the other grievance with India. An important factor that Pakistan has sought to bring about consistently, as stated before, is that none of the countries themselves have any grievance with each other and it is only India which has problems with almost all the countries. Thus, it said, a change in attitude has to come on the part of India. It needs to be noted that the situation has changed a lot presently and India has friendly relations with almost all the countries. The Gujral Doctrine and other steps taken by India have fundamentally changed the nature of its bilateral relations with the smaller SAARC members. Pakistan has however not realised that one of its major grievances has been met, with a change in attitude on the part of India, and it cannot continue to unreasonably raise the bogey of hegemonic India. This in an environment especially when with the end of Cold War and de-ideologisation, the economic aspects in relations have gained prominence over the political ones.

Thirdly SAARC has engaged Pakistan in the region's various activities. It is estimated that there is one SAARC meeting officially or of non governmental agencies every day taking place in the sub-continent discussing a wide array of issues . In fact there is a debate in Pakistan in the academic circles that economic co-operation should be possible without the political issues being resolved. The academic circles have begun to question if indeed Kashmir is the real issue or does the problem lie somewhere else. There is thus an interest group being created which sees in SAARC a means of establishing a better climate of cooperation. Thus, SAARC has increased people to people co-operation.

Conclusion: Two Contradictory Streams of Interaction

In the final analysis, it is difficult to conclude whether Pakistan's attitude towards SAARC or its interaction with the regional association has been beneficial to itself and the South Asian region. Infact, one notices two contradictory streams of thought which while engaging Pakistan positively in the regional plans and programmes also facilitate it to use the Association to further its foreign policy goals in South Asia and specifically against India by regionalising its bilateral differences which limit regional cooperation.

This gives rise to two questions. First, are these two contradictory streams of thought parallel, never to meet, or is there a meeting ground? Second, what does this contradiction mean to SAARC in the long term? The answer to these two questions is infact not exclusive to each other but co related. The contradictory streams of thought are not parallel. Infact it is this contradiction which enables the two sections in Pakistani society—that which advocates a functionalist approach and that which wants peace to precede co-operation—co-exist and pursue their respective agenda. How long and how far this can continue will depend on important "linkages", and their role.

LINKAGE 1—The ability of the functionalists in the Pakistan society to influence others about the benefits and necessity of co-operation. An important section under this would be the non-governmental organisations, the trade chambers, those involved in the cultural field and most importantly the print and electronic media. A very positive feature has been that Nawaz Sharif won the elections, apart from other issues, on the stand that he would improve relations with India. However, events which have followed somehow have not enabled this to materialise.

LINKAGE 2—The role of the smaller member countries becomes very crucial in a scenario when two of the larger member countries are pitted against each other. If they put the pressure, then the association will have to move towards the core areas of co-operation. Infact one is noticing a business like attitude among them, aiming to raise the standard of living in their countries, moreso after the realisation that with the end of the cold war, economics seems to dominate politics while choosing friends and making enemies.

LINKAGE 3—The economic compulsions and pressures of the internal economic scene in Pakistan will play a very crucial role in pushing it either towards or away from regional co operation. Further, the adverse international economic order trying to impose unequal regimes would push Pakistan towards South-South cooperation under the umbrella of SAARC. It is very well aware that there are moves for sub- regional cooperation within SAARC primarily because there is no consensus when all the members have to decide together. At this juncture it also needs to be noted that Pakistan along with India attended the first three nation Business Summit held in Dhaka in January 1998 at the initiative of Bangladesh.

LINKAGE 4—India and its attitude towards SAARC and especially the smaller member countries will play an important role in moving the association towards core areas of co-operation. The nature of its bilateral relations with the other members will hold the key in pursuing Pakistan to adopt a more flexible approach.

It is the interplay of these linkages which will play an important role in bringing the contradiction together. The study of Pakistan's interaction with SAARC also brings out the close relation between bilateral relations and regional interactions in any regional association. It would not be wrong to say that while at the macro regional level differences take the shape of the functionalist approach vs. realist approach, the same debate at the bilateral micro level takes the shape of Kashmir vs. other areas of co operation.

Despite all contradictions, the regional association will move ahead because it is no longer a question of choice but of necessity. The question being asked in South Asia, as in Pakistan is not why—regional cooperation, but how quickly?



1. For a brief analysis of the changing role of the smaller member countries, refer, Padmaja Murthy, "Role of Smaller Members in the SAARC Forum," Strategic Analysis, vol. 22, no. 8, November 1998, p. 1179-1191.

2. "The Future of SAARC," Spotlight on Regional Affairs, vol. 11, no. 1, January 1992.

3. "SAARC: Three Years On, An Overview," Spotlight on Regional Affairs, vol. 7, no. 11, November 1988.

4. n. 2.

5. "SAARC Participation Not To Hit Ties With Muslim States," POT (Public Opinion Trends Analyses and News Service), Pakistan Series, vol. 13, n. 218, December 5, 1985, p. 4304-05.

6. It was in 1985 at the summit in Dhaka that regional cooperation was institutionalised and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established. Prior to it, the process of regional cooperation in terms of the various meetings among the seven South Asian countries aiming to form an association was referred to as SARC (South Asian Regional Cooperation). However, all efforts in regional cooperation outside SAARC institutional framework are generally referred to as SARC.

7. "Yaqub At Dhaka, Suggests Two More Fields For SAARC Endeavour," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 13, n. 220, December 7, 1985, p. 4344-46.

8. "Press Comments On SAARC Summit And Indo-Pak Ties," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 13, n. 217, December 2, 1985, p. 4287-93.

9. Ibid., p. 4289.

10. "Zia At Dhaka, Urges Joint SAARC Pledge To Banish Nuclear Weapons," POT, Pakistan Series, Vol. 13, n. 221, December 9, 1985, p. 4364-68.

11. Ibid., p. 4365.

12. Ibid., p. 4367.

13. Ibid.

14. Tehmina Mahmood, "Pakistan's Foreign Policy: Post Cold War Period," Pakistan Horizon, vol. 50, n. 3, July 1997, p. 100-124.

15. This conclusion has been arrived at after examining the speeches at the summit meetings from 1985-1995 of the Pakistan leaders as published by the SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu.

16. "Zia Meets Rajiv In Delhi; Accord Against Raiding N-Plants," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 13, n. 229, December 23, 1985, p. 4559-67.

17. 'President Zia Perceives No War Clouds," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 14, n. 209, November 14, 1986, p. 4366-69.

18. Ibid., p. 4366.

19. Ibid., p. 4369.

20. "Press Comment: Reported War Threat By India," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 14, n. 209, November 14, 1986, p. 4370-74.

21. "Junejo in Bangalore SAARC Summit, Hopes for Positive Results," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 14, n. 210, November 17, 1986, p. 4381-84.

22. "Press Comment On SAARC Summit," POT, Pakistan Series, vo. 14, n. 210, November 17, 1986, p. 4384-87.

23. "Junejo Holds Talks With Rajiv Gandhi, Voices Satisfaction," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 14, n. 212, November 18, 1986, p. 4424-27.

24. "Press Comments On SAARC Summit," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 14, n. 213, November 20, 1986, p. 4448-54.

25. Ibid., p. 4453.

26. n. 23, p. 4427.

27. "PM's Call At SAARC For Joint Renunciation of N-Option," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 15, n. 198, November 5, 1987, p. 4174-78.

28. For details of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 29, 1987 and of the events leading to the signing of the agreement refer, J.N. Dixit, "Assignment Colombo," Konark Publishers Private Limited.

29. "Press Comments: Indo-Pak Factor in SAARC," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 15, n. 200, November 9, 1987, p. 4212-14.

30. "Press Comments: SAARC Summit At Kathmandu," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 17, n. 203, November 14, 1987, p. 4274-78.

31. "Indo-Pak Accord Not To Attach Each Others N-Facilities," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 17, n. 1, January 2, 1987, p. 1-11. Adding a personal touch, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said, "This is the first agreement since 1972 when your father (Mr. Bhutto) and my mother (Mrs. Gandhi) signed an agreement in Shimla."

32. "Press Comments: Fourth SAARC Summit," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 17, n. 13, January 4, 1989, p. 56-61.

33. "Nawaz, Shekar Meet At Male; No Progress On Kashmir" POT, Pakistan Series, vo. 18, n. 243, November 26, 1990, p. 4720-24.

34. "Nawaz Hails Signing Of Drug Control Convention At Male," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 18, n. 242, November 24, 1990, p. 470-76.

35. "Press Comments: Nawaz-Chandra Shekhar Meeting At SAARC," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 18, n. 245, November 28, 1990, p. 4765-69.

36. "Peace In Region Only If Pakistan, India Resolve Disputes: Pm," POT, Pakistan Series, vo. 19, n. 270, December 27, 1991, p. 6544-46.

37. n. 2, p. 23.

38. "Rao-Nawaz Hold Closed Door Talks," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 18, n. 93, April 22, 1993, p. 758.

39. "Comments: Leghari's Plain Speaking To New Delhi," POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 23, n. 185, May 8, 1995, p. 899-900.

40. POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 23, n. 185, May 8, 1995, p. 899-900.

41. For varied views on SAARC Summit At Male, refer POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 25, n. 113, May 16, 1997, p. 1137-1143.

42. For varied views on the failed Indo-Pak talks in the sidelines of the 10th SAARC Summit in Colombo, refer, POT, Pakistan Series, vol. 26, n. 188, August 14, 1998 to vol. 26, n. 203, August 31, 1998.

43. General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, Address at the concluding session of the first SAARC Summit at Dhaka, 1985, in SAARC Summits 1985-88, vol. I, published by SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu, August 1990, p. 39.

44. General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, Address at the inaugural session of the session of first SAARC Summit at Dhaka, 1985, n. 43, p. 25.

45. Benazir Bhutto, Address at the inaugural session of the fourth SAARC Summit in Islamabad, 1988, n. 43, p. 164.

46. Benazir Bhutto, Address at the concluding session of the fourth SAARC Summit in Islamabad, 1988, n. 43, p. 202.

47. Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, Address at the inaugural session the fifth SAARC Summit in Male, 1990, in SAARC Summits 1990-95, Vol. II, published by SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu, p. 4.

48. n. 44, p. 24.

49. Mohammad Khan Junejo, Address at the inaugural session of the second SAARC Summit in Bangalore, 1986, n. 43, p. 71.

50. Mohammad Khan Junejo, Address at the inaugural session of the third SAARC Summit, Kathmandu, 1987, n. 43, p. 124.

51. n. 44, p. 25.

52. n. 49, p. 72.

53. n. 50, p. 126.

54. n. 45, p. 164.

55. Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, address at the inaugural session of the sixth SAARC Summit on Colombo in 1991, n. 47, p. 81.

56. The Hindu, July 29, 1998.

57. n. 44, p. 25.

58. n. 49, p. 73.

59. n. 50, p. 126.

60. n. 47, p. 23.

61. n. 55, p. 82.

62. Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, Address at the inaugural session of the Seventh SAARC Summit in Dhaka in 1993, n. 47, p. 116.

63. Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, Address at the inaugural session of the seventh SAARC summit, New Delhi, 1985, n. 47, p. 151.

64. The Hindu, August 3, 1998.

65. n. 44, p. 25.

66. n. 49, p. 72.

67. n. 45, p. 163.

68. n. 62, p. 116.

69. n. 63, p. 152.

70. n. 44, p. 25.

71. n. 50, p. 127.

72. n. 49, p. 73.

73. n. 50, p. 125.

74. Mohammad Khan Junejo, Address at the concluding session of the third SAARC summit in Kathmandu, 1987, n. 43, p. 142.

75. Benazir Bhutto, Address at the concluding session of the fourth SAARC Summit, Islamabad, n. 43, p. 203.

76. n. 49, p. 203.

77. n. 50, p. 126.

78. Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, Address at the concluding session of the fifth SAARC summit at Male, n. 47, p. 43.

79. n. 49, p. 73.

80. n. 50, p. 125.

81. Ibid.

82. n. 45, p. 163.

83. n. 46, p. 201.

84. n. 55, p. 83.