India’s diplomatic overtures in, and financial aid to, the Maldives are paying rich dividends now, as New Delhi gets to assert its influence in South Asia and at the same time spoil Pakistan’s SAARC dream. Being one of India’s closest friends, the Maldives is responding to Indian goodwill, by helping New Delhi marginalise Pakistan.
Islamabad desperately wants to host the 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit. But speaking at the SAARC Informal Foreign Ministers Meet, the Maldives has bluntly stated that amidst the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, it is not “appropriate time to discuss the summit.”
Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid said, “The Maldives remains steadfast in its commitment towards regional cooperation. Taking a cue from our Leaders Meeting in March 2020, the Maldives calls for the creation of a conducive environment to reach consensus on the convening of the 19th SAARC summit”.
Shahid added, “At this point in time, we are preoccupied with dealing with COVID-19 pandemic and do not think it’s the appropriate time to discuss the time of the summit.”
Malé’s refusal to discuss the summit comes as a major blow for Pakistan, which has been desperately trying to host the 19th SAARC summit for the past four years. The summit was to be originally held in the year 2016 in Islamabad, but then the Pakistan-sponsored Uri terror attack led to the SAARC summit getting derailed. India and most other SAARC countries had then decided to boycott the SAARC summit due to the atmosphere of terror being created by Pakistan.
Since 2016, Islamabad has been trying to build consensus within the SAARC so that it can host the 19th summit of the regional cooperation body. However, Pakistan has remained unsuccessful in its attempts to build consensus thus far. Last year also, Pakistan had big claims on the sidelines of the SAARC Foreign Ministers meet about building consensus amongst the SAARC member-states.
But, in reality, no real movement happened when it comes to the 19th SAARC summit. So, this time around, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi went a step further and decided to drop the Kashmir issue for the ever-elusive SAARC summit. Even At the virtual SAARC Council of Ministers meeting, Islamabad did not make any reference to Kashmir, an aberration given Pakistan’s track record since India abrogated Article 370 last year.
Pakistan has found no real support on the Kashmir issue. The Maldives itself, for example, has brutally snubbed Islamabad over the Kashmir issue. In fact, Malé’s Kashmir narrative has changed drastically ever since the pro-China Abdulla Yameen regime got replaced by the India-friendly Solih regime in 2018.
A Minister in the Abdulla Yameen government had even made an objectionable remark about Kashmir, but Indo-Maldivian ties have really come a long way now, as Malé stands firmly with India over the Kashmir issue. This is quite an embarrassment for Pakistan, as despite being a Muslim country, the Maldives keeps showing Pakistan the mirror over the Kashmir issue.
As for Pakistan, avoiding any reference to Kashmir was therefore imperative in order to build consensus for hosting the 19th SAARC summit. However, Pakistan’s hopes of hosting the summit have been dashed by the Maldives in one go.
The SAARC has been rendered irrelevant due to Pakistan’s terror nexus that has emerged as the biggest security threat for South Asia. Now, Islamabad’s plan is to make the SAARC work by hosting member-States of the intergovernmental body. By making SAARC work, Pakistan wants to improve its image of a rogue State.
India and the Maldives are now taking their bilateral ties to a new level. India is pledging millions of Dollars in financial assistance to Malé, which is unfortunately trapped in Chinese debt. New Delhi is helping the Maldives rescue itself from China’s debt trap and the Maldives is, in turn, helping send Pakistan’s SAARC dreams into oblivion.
As the Maldives dashes Pakistan’s hopes, New Delhi gets to claim another diplomatic victory against Pakistan- a direct consequence of Modi government’s foreign policy charm in the Maldives.