August 2008, Vol. 3, No. 7

SAARC Summit - An exercise in futility?

Indian Farmers

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation held its 15th Summit meet in Colombo between August 2 and 3. Often criticized for its lack of effectiveness in the past, the Summit's highlight was an agreement between member countries to set up a legal mechanism intended for mutual assistance in countering terrorism. Despite the air of cooperation, bilateral issues like cross-border terrorism and trade agreements which have often been the biggest roadblocks for SAARC continued to simmer. This month's feature focuses on the validity of the concept of South Asia, its ramifications for SAARC, expectations leading up to the Summit , and opinions about what was achieved.


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In this Issue:

  1. Feature: SAARC Summit - An Exercise in Futility?

  2. Carnegie Events and Analysis
    Will the nonproliferation mainstream shift?

  3. Views from South Asia:

    Foreign and Domestic Politics

    Political Corruption; Civil Nuclear Agreement - Deal or No Deal? Kabul Embassy Bombing; Metro Terrorism; Kashmir: Amarnath Land Transfer

    Economics and Energy
    Failure of Doha Round; Nuclear Deal - Spillover Effects

    Musharraf resigns; Impeachment: Why Now? Government - ISI relations; Media and Civil Society; Macroeconomic Management

    Local Elections; Bangladesh - India relations; Foreign Investment

    Power Politics; Hindi Controversy; Economic Growth

    LTTE Ceasefire; Sri Lanka - India Trade Agreement

Editor's Note

All of South Asia experienced frantic political activity last month. July 22 marked a watershed moment for the India–U.S. civil nuclear agreement as the Indian government faced and won a ‘no-confidence motion', triggered by the withdrawal of support to the coalition by Left parties angered by the government's persistence with the deal. After approval from the IAEA Board of Governors, the agreement faces scrutiny by the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) during its meeting this month.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf resigned from his position on August 18, ending nine years of military leadership. Faced with a long and bruising battle after the leading political parties, PPP and PML-N, announced plans to initiate impeachment proceedings, Musharraf stepped down. The country is rife with speculation that a deal was struck to grant him legal immunity from events that occurred during his rule. Although the civilian government has successfully removed one center of power, how the army reacts to the new situation remains to be seen, with significant ramifications for U.S. interests in the region.

Nepal elected Ram Baran Yadav, Parmanand Jha and Pushpa Kamal Dahal as its president, vice-president and prime minister respectively. The combination of a Nepali Congress nationalist, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum member and an avowed Maoist at the helm of Nepalese affairs threaten testing times for the nascent republic.

During the 15th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit hosted by Sri Lanka, the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire for the duration of the meet. The Summit provided an occasion for intellectuals and leaders to dwell on the concepts of South Asia and Southasian. In a contrarian article, Mukul Kesavan argues against the very idea of Southasia as a political project. Bibek Debroy too argues for the dismantling of SAARC as we know it , but from an economic perspective. For other reflections on Southasian identities, history and the prospects of integration in the region, do take a look at Himal Southasian's August issue.

In what specific areas could South Asian governments, businesses and people engage with one another? Please let us know - email your comments to

Ashesh Prasann
Editor, South Asian Perspectives



Indian FarmersSAARC Summit - An Exercise in Futility?
In the lead-up to the summit, Mahendra P Lama examines the causes of failure in the implementation of SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism, first signed in 1987 and the predecessor of the agreement at this year's summit. ( Hindustan Times, July 28, 2008 )

In a separate article, he examines the bigger picture and argues that the non-official interactions between professionals, academics, media, and civil society set in motion by the ‘official' SAARC will eventually lead to it becoming active and operational ( Himal Southasian, August 2008 ).

Along the same lines, Saman Kelegama contends that the SAARC process has been slow because nation-states in the region were not yet defined. Modern forces of market integration and civil society interactions will force governments in the region to engage constructively with each other ( Himal Southasian, August 2008 ).

An editorial in the Telegraph detects a difference in this year's summit and attributes it to Afghanistan 's accusation that Pakistan is supporting terrorism in Afghanistan. This injected a purportedly bilateral matter to a forum which has traditionally shirked away from contentious bilateral issues ( The Telegraph, August 7, 2008 ).

The Hindu analyzes food security in the region, another important feature of the Colombo declaration and a long-standing item on the SAARC agenda. Reflecting on the trend towards bilateralism in this context, with India helping Bangladesh and Sri Lanka tide over shortages in the last two years, the editorial speculates on whether it can be developed into a regional framework ( The Hindu, August 7, 2008 ).

Meanwhile, Mukul Kesavan argues against the very concept of Southasia as a political project. He asserts that India's pluralism and diversity threatens the national narratives of its surrounding nations and only when they become pluralist democracies will Southasia acquire any meaning ( Himal Southasian, August 2008 ).

Bibek Debroy too argues for the dismantling of SAARC as we know it, but from an economic perspective. He believes that greater administrative decentralization is needed to allow South Asian countries to be able to negotiate agreements with Indian states closest to them, for economic development in the region ( Himal Southasian, August 2008 ).

Carnegie Events and Analysis

China's anti-satellite testWill the nonproliferation mainstream shift?
Continued supply of nuclear materials following an Indian nuclear test is a critical component of the ‘clean exception' sought by the country from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Carnegie's Sharon Squassoni makes the case that if NSG members adopt this clean exemption, it will radically alter the mainstream of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

( Click here to read the full text )

Views from South Asia

INDIA - Foreign and Domestic PoliticsAnti-Reservation Protesters

July 22 was a watershed moment for the India–U.S. civil nuclear agreement as it finally moved out of the realm of India 's domestic politics. The Indian government faced and won a ‘no-confidence motion' triggered by the withdrawal of support to the coalition by Left parties after it decided to go ahead with the nuclear deal. It was also a highlight moment for another kind of deal rampant in Indian politics – horse trading. In a rambunctious session, the main opposition party, the BJP, waved wads of cash in the Parliament, alleging that the government had tried to buy support to save itself.

Political Corruption
July 22 marked a watershed moment for the India–U.S. civil nuclear agreement as the Indian government faced and won a ‘no-confidence motion', triggered by the withdrawal of support to the coalition by Left parties angered by the government's persistence with the deal. The day also highlighted the persistence of another trend in Indian politics – horse trading. In a rambunctious session, the main opposition party, the BJP, waved wads of cash in the Parliament, alleging that the government had tried to buy support to save itself.

Reflecting on the incident, Pratap Bhanu Mehta bemoans the moral vacuum in the political class regardless of whether the allegations are proved true or not. He argues that the culture of political instrumentalism has long term corrosive effects which are not apparent right now. ( The Indian Express, July 23, 2008 )

Along the same lines, Rajdeep Sardesai links political corruption to the law which grants members of parliament judicial immunity for any action undertaken inside the parliament. He also explores the trend of political fragmentation, which makes it easier to bribe small parties controlled by one leader ( Hindustan Times, July 22, 2008 ).

Civil Nuclear Agreement - Deal or No Deal?
China 's reaction to the U.S.–India nuclear deal has frequently been a subject of speculation amongst political commentators. C Raja Mohan argues that China's rational response should be to welcome the deal based on a longer term calculus of relations with an increasingly powerful India. In return, India should allay China's fears of its regional hegemony by allowing it to play an important and mutually beneficial role in SAARC. ( Indian Express, July 30, 2008 )

A ‘clean and unconditional' waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, a crucial requirement for Indian interests to be protected, was never going to be a cakewalk . Indrani Bagchi identifies the tension between the U.S. and Indian diplomatic approaches to obtaining such a waiver. ( The Times of India, July 30, 2008 )

Take a look at Robert Mulford's (U.S. Ambassador to India ) and Pranab Mukherjee's (Indian Minister of External Affairs) interviews about the same.

Anil Kakodkar , chairman of India 's Atomic Energy Commission and one of its chief negotiators at the NSG, takes the view that India could walk away from negotiations if its demand for a ‘clean and unconditional' waiver is not met. He also argues that on its own, an India-specific safeguards agreement is a significant diplomatic achievement. ( The Hindu, August 3, 3008 )

Making the ‘foreign dependence is not energy security' argument, Manvendra Singh, a BJP member of Parliament, claims that the nuclear deal holds India hostage to a cartel—the NSG—which determines prices of uranium, and internal U.S. laws, which is at the mercy of changes in U.S. foreign policy. ( The Hindustan Times, July 23, 2008 )

Kabul Embassy Bombing
Following the bombing of India 's Kabul embassy, Praveen Swami explores the history of the proxy war being fought between India and Pakistan 's intelligence agencies in Afghanistan . The article also examines India 's deepening diplomatic, military and economic influence in Afghanistan , underscoring the stakes for this covert, low-intensity conflict. ( July 9, The Hindu )

“Talk-talk is better than fight-fight,” M. K. Narayanan, National Security Advisor concluded, “but it hasn't worked so far.” Praveen Swami writes about the dominant mood of retaliation in the Indian intelligence community and the debate over employing offensive covert capabilities to combat ISI–sponsored terrorism. ( The Hindu, July 15, 2008 )

Pakistan is balancing the two contradictory interests of trying to maintain influence in Afghanistan through the Taliban and applying military force to the same under U.S. pressure. Kanwal Sibal argues that this strategy will continue until India-Pakistan relations do not fundamentally change from ‘confrontation' to ‘cooperation'. ( The Telegraph, July 30, 2008 )

Taslima Nasreen

Metro Terrorism
Ravi Visvesvaraya Prasad analyses the pattern of terror attacks in Ahmedabad and Bangalore and contends that they were carried out by different offshoots of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). One of them, he claims, bears the mark of the Indian Mujahideen, a homegrown organization which sent emails before the attacks in Ahmedabad. ( Hindustan Times, July 29, 2008 )

The Hindu's editorial board argues that terrorism can be broken down into the intention to engage in murderous violence and the infrastructure needed to execute it. Investment in intelligence capabilities and an effective regulatory mechanism for the storage and sale of explosives are critical measures necessary for combating both components of metro terrorism. ( The Hindu, July 28, 2008 )

Meanwhile, the Asian Age questions the prosecutions following previous terror attacks. Typically, courts have let suspects off because the evidence provided through hurriedly concocted investigations is abysmally poor. The resentment this practice creates in the Muslim community feeds into the wall of suspicion terrorists seek to create. ( The Asian Age, July 28, 2008 )

Setting out to test the above hypothesis, Tehelka writer Ajit Sahi carries out a series of investigations which reveal that SIMI, the organization frequently accused of involvement in terror attacks since 2001, has not had a single conviction of its members. ( Tehelka Magazine, August 16, 2008 )

Kashmir: Amarnath Land Transfer
An editorial in the Hindu sources the durability of recent trouble in Jammu and Kashmir to the desire of political parties to capitalize politically in upcoming elections and argues against postponing the October elections, which is being considered by the government. ( The Hindu, August 8, 2008 ).

In an interview, SK Sinha , former governor of Kashmir and chairman of the erstwhile Amarnath shrine board, contends that People's Democratic Party (PDP), shared a common agenda with the separatists and was threatened by peace initiatives led by him. ( Business Standard, July 13, 2008 )

Barkha Dutt castigates the Indian government's slow response as events in Kashmir escalated from a relatively innocuous land transfer dispute to a full blown regional divide. She attacks BJP's LK Advani for mobilizing pan-Hindu anger for a regional conflict and challenges homegrown Kashmiri parties to march to Jammu and unite the state instead of painting themselves as victims. ( Khaleej Times, August 19, 2008 )

Legally and financially, Jammu and Kashmir has always been treated as a special case by the Indian State . Vir Sanghvi questions the reasons—encouragement of other secessionist groups and damage to Indian secularism—for holding on to a territory which may prefer secessionism despite such exceptional treatment ( The Hindustan Times, August 16, 2008 ).

INDIA - Economics and Energy

Failure of Doha Round
D Ravi Kanth documents the negotiating process and differences between U.S. and Indian positions over the ultimate cause for the failure of the Geneva meet—the Special Safeguards Mechanism (SSM). ( Business Standard, Jul 30, 2008 )

At a time when the U.S. and EU economies are charting troubled waters, it was always foolhardy to believe that the Doha Round would succeed. Suparna Karmakar argues that the round, with greater market access as its objective, was designed for failure. The future lies in harmonization of non-tariff regulatory measures. ( Business Standard, July 31, 2008 )

India 's defense of its farmers and opposition to the U.S. position in Geneva is proof of its sovereignty in foreign policy and a retort to accusations of the Left of becoming hostage to foreign interests. Dhiraj Nayyar argues that liberal economic reform leads to independence at international forums and freedom from special interest groups domestically. ( Indian Express, August 5, 2008 )

Nuclear Deal - Spillover Effects
Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar has a novel take on the advantages of the nuclear deal – he predicts that India will become an exporter of nuclear equipment because of its economic strengths of low costs and engineering skills. This, he contends, will transform foreign policy and security issues as sanctions will become ineffective because Indian companies will indigenously produce the same equipment. ( The Times of India, July 27, 2008 )

Continuing in the same vein, Indrani Bagchi identifies various Indian industries which will benefit from the ripple effect of the nuclear deal. Currently, export control regimes in many countries deny India the access to any technology which can potentially be used to generate nuclear power. This side-effect, she argues, is where the real importance of the deal lies. ( The Times of India, 3 Aug, 2008 )

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PakistanMusharraf resigns

General Pervez Musharraf resigned from the post of president on August 18 after the civilian government threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against him. Dawn chronicles Musharraf's tenure and the ramifications of his exit. ( Dawn, August 18, 2008 )

Anwar Iqbal documents the flurry of diplomatic activity between the United States and Pakistan that sealed Musharraf's fate. The United States and specifically President Bush, were persuaded that “no hell will break loose if Musharraf goes” and the war on terror would continue with the army's support in Pakistan . ( Dawn, August 19, 2008 ).

An editorial in the Daily Times asserts that Musharraf lost constitutional, political, and economic legitimacy by retaining two offices (2004), his party losing elections, and the United States losing patience with him, respectively. ( The Daily Times, August 19, 2008 )

The Musharraf years were characterized by contradictions—once widely praised by liberal, religious, and women's groups, the general was opposed by the same forces towards the end of his regime. Zaffar Abbas asserts that the man himself was an enigma whose mistakes were the imposition of emergency rule, sacking judges, and muzzling the media. ( The Dawn, August 19, 2008 ).

Impeachment: Why Now?

An editorial in the Daily Times explores the change in Asif Zardari's stand on Musharraf, who he had merely invited to “go away gracefully” in the past. The current economic situation and political compulsions in Balochistan and the Northwest Frontier Province are identified as the major reasons ( Daily Times, August 9, 2008 )

Another editorial in the Daily Times examines the lawyers' movement's rejection of the impeachment plan on the grounds that it gives constitutional legitimacy to Musharraf's re-election last November. Terming this “rhetorical”, the editorial argues that the lawyers' movement prefers the reinstatement of judges first because it sees it as a more effective instrument to dismiss Musharraf by terming his re-election illegal. ( Daily Times, August 10, 2008 )

In a study which examines the pattern of dissolution of parliaments in Pakistan, Mohammad Waseem asserts that the time is ripe for Musharraf to do so once again. Retrospectively, the article seems to read the mind of Pakistani leaders before their decision to impeach Musharraf. ( Dawn, August 2, 2008 )

Government – ISI relations

Ayesha Siddiqua analyzes the decision and subsequent reversal to place the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) under the interior ministry and asserts that the move was a response to U.S. pressure and a long-standing desire of civilian governments to restructure civil-military relations. ( Dawn, August 1, 2008 )

Responding to arguments that an agency collecting external intelligence need not report to the interior ministry, Aqil Shah counters by asking why is there usually silence when the army puts the entire constitutional structure of the state under its unlawful command. ( Dawn, August 9, 2008 )

In a two-part series, Najmuddin A Shaikh analyses recent fluctuations and overall trends in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship with a special focus on Prime Minister Gilani's U.S. trip. He believes that for the first time in a long history, there is genuine convergence of long-term interests between the two countries. ( Daily Times, August 8, 2008 and August 15, 2008 )


Making the case for Balochistan's desire for greater autonomy, Sanaullah Baloch compares it to the Free Aceh Movement which reached a mutually agreeable compromise with the Indonesian government after 30 years of conflict. ( Dawn, August 5, 2008 )

A Dawn editorial praises the consensus reached in an Islamabad summit that militants need to be negotiated with politically. At the same time, it poses a question to the government—considering the history of previous agreements, what parameters will be set for these talks? ( The Dawn, July 25, 2008 )

Media and Civil Society

An editorial in The News makes the claim that “the Pakistani media is perhaps enjoying their period of greatest freedom” since independence. It refers to the new bill presented in the National Assembly which repeals restrictions imposed on newspapers. ( The News, August 13, 2008 )

Cyril Almeida applauds the recent “recapturing of public space” by Pakistani women that was denied to them since Zia-ul-Haq's rule and its progeny, conservative religious forces. He goes on to argue that this has been possible only because of the spillovers of economic growth. ( The Dawn, August 6, 2008 )

Macroeconomic Management

Accusing the Musharraf regime of fudging statistics, Pervez Tahir deconstructs the notion that the previous regime was responsible for Pakistan 's economic growth since 2001. ( Dawn, August 12, 2008 )

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Bangladeshi soldiers stand guardLocal Elections

Local government elections, widely considered a dress rehearsal for the eventual national elections, took place in Bangladesh on August 4th . The Awami League party swept all but one of the city corporation and municipality seats up for grabs.

M Abul Kalam Azad asserts that the election of new faces drawn from local leaders and activists is an encouraging sign. ( The Daily Star, August 6, 2008 )

The editorial in Bangladesh Today takes a less than optimistic view of the results, pointing out that the absence of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) made the results a foregone conclusion. It goes on to argue that elections not contested by one party eventually leads to street agitations and conflict, as the previous pattern in Bangladesh has shown. ( The Bangladesh Today, August 7, 2008 )

Bangladesh – India relations

Weighing in on the India-Bangladesh water issue, discussed at the foreign-secretary level talks Syed Muhammad Husain makes the case that Bangladesh is in danger of losing water if it accepts the fait accompli of current negotiations. ( New Age, Jul 31, 2008 )

Foreign Investment

India-based Tata Group pulled out of its $3 billion investment plan, the largest foreign investment plan in Bangladesh, as the government could not guarantee the natural gas required by the conglomerate. ( The Daily Star, August 1, 2008 )

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NepalPower Politics

The odds are stacked against the coalition government led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda), claims P. Kharel . Creating a Common Minimum Programme might be the best buffer against coalition partners seeking to score political points. ( The Rising Nepal, August 18, 2008 )

Bipin Adhikari seeks to correct the general perception that the president is the countervailing power to the prime minister based on differing interpretations of the constitution's Fourth and Fifth Amendments ( The Kathmandu Post, July 31, 2008 )

Hindi Controversy

Weighing in on the fracas which broke out after Vice-President Parmanand Jha took his oath of office in Hindi, Khagendra N Sharma questions the desire to play to his Terai constituency and exhorts Jha to elevate his thinking to that of the nation. ( The Kathmandu Post, August 1, 2008 )

Economic Growth

Scrutinizing economic data since turn of the century, Raghab D Pant argues that Nepal's current growth trajectory is L-shaped and will continue like that until 2010 ( The Himalayan Times, July 24, 2008 ).

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LTTE Ceasefire

An editorial in the Island strongly dismisses the LTTE's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire during the SAARC summit as the bluff of an impotent force. It claims that shrinking territorial possession, a naval blockade, and loss of arms-smuggling ships are the actual factors which are driving this declaration. ( The Island, July 23, 2008 )

The Sunday Leader , meanwhile, probes the widely accepted idea that LTTE is on its last legs. It further argues that even if LTTE terrorism is eradicated, Tamil nationalism is well and truly alive and the root causes of that sentiment needs to be addressed. ( The Sunday Leader, July 20, 2008 )

India 's National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan's comments on the LTTE caused a minor storm in Sri Lankan political circles. N Sathiya Moorthy analyzes his comments in the context of the debate over a ‘unitary state' versus devolution of powers. ( Daily Mirror, August 18, 2008 )

Sri Lanka – India Trade Agreement

The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), a trade agreement between Sri Lanka and India which sought to increase flows of services between the two countries, is now stalled. Neville de Silva argues that the potential benefits accrued to Sri Lanka from a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India have been thwarted by the Indian bureaucracy. It is imperative to ensure CEPA does not meet the same fate. ( The Sunday Times, July 27, 2008 )

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Editorial Staff

Ashesh Prasann, Junior Fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
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Ph: 202-939-2332

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