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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1590

Analysis & Opinion: President Nasheed’s no-nonsense SAARC speech

By Poorna Rodrigo

President_Mohamed_Nasheed.JPGWhen an outspoken Maldives’ President Mohamed Nasheed made a no-nonsense remark on Indo-Pakistan strained relations, urging the neighbours to mend ties -- it did jolt the SAARC audience.

Throwing diplomacy to the skies, Nasheed seized the opportunity, and spoke his heart out.

“I hope that neighbours can find ways to compartmentalize pending differences, while finding areas on which they can move forward.”

And he did not stop at that:

“I am specifically referring to differences between India and Pakistan,” the President added.

Naheed “created a flutter” IANS reported following his address to the 16th SAARC summit in Bhutanese Capital, Thimphu.

The Press Trust of India called it is “unusual” for the Maldives to talk bilateral ties in the multilateral forum of SAARC.

And, NDTV said President Nasheed’s comment was the only thing that ever “stirred” the audience, in the entire 25 year old history of SAARC.

“Today, for the first time in 25 years, a member state took India and Pakistan head on, blaming them on making SAARC virtually non functional,” it reported.

Before the summit started, there were ceremonies which depicted Bhutanese culture that “stirred the heart,” Rediff News reported on the SAARC summit.

“But inside the Grand Assembly Hall of Bhutan, except for Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed's no-nonsense remark about India and Pakistan bringing their spat at SAARC, nothing could stir the audience,” it added.

However, the President’s Office told the Asian Tribune that the character of Nasheed is such that he would not miss out on an opportunity to tackle the single most pressing issue in the region –Indo- Pakistan strained relations.

“He is known to speak his mind and it would be remiss of him to pass over the single most biggest issue [in the region] at such an opportune occasion,” Press Secretary for the President Office, Mohamed Zuhair said.

President Nasheed’s “speeches are off the cuff” and only “some are based on talking points and notes,” Zuhair has told the Asian Tribune earlier.

On the face of it, Nasheed’s comment urging neighbours to mend ties, may seem as talking bilateral matters in a multilateral summit, which is not the norm.

Then again, the President was speaking very much in keeping to the SAARC Charter.

It requires the member countries to “compartmentalize the differences and move forward on common ground,” as Nasheed himself put it during his address.

A day before his address in Thimphu, Nasheed spoke to select journalists on the sideline of the summit, perhaps giving a hint of his bombshell remark the next day.

There he elaborated well on the dominance of Indo-Pakistan tension at SAARC meetings.

“In my mind, it is in the interest of all to compartmentalise our problems, specially, India and Pakistan and their border and territorial issues,” Rediff News quoted Nasheed as saying.

After all India-China ties were cited as an example during the summit.

He pointed out that the same principle could be applied to strengthening India and Pakistan relations, giving the SAARC too the much needed momentum.

Meanwhile, it remains a matter to be seen if Nasheed’s comments did hurt the Maldives’ relations with India and Pakistan.

Nasheed’s office said his “trait of breaking from convention has caused him being criticized, even punished,” commenting on his controversial SAARC address.
But, that is the “straightforward” character President Nasheed is, his Press Secretary added.

There is no denial that the South Asian grouping has been hammered repeatedly over lack of concrete action to remedy the regional issues.

There was “no dynamism or focus at the summit despite the long speeches” media reports criticized.

“The 21st century is called the Asian century, but for 25 years, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has struggled to get off the ground,” it added.

Bhutan's Prime Minister Jigmy Y Thinley could not put it more bluntly than that when he told the summit: “Some 200 meetings take place every year amongst SAARC countries but these meetings are not matched by results.”

Ironically, the regional grouping now has more observers than member states due to its geo-strategic importance.

The US, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Korea and Mauritius Australia and Myanmar have observer status, brining their number to nine.

But the grouping has only 8 members who are Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

On top of it, India and Pakistan steal the show at every SAARC summit, with the border dispute hitting the headlines whilst other issues like regional development, trade and climate change take the back seat.

All these factors point to but one thing -- that SAARC has largely failed to deliver anything worthwhile.

May be that’s the reason why President Nasheed thought it fit to hit the nail on the SAARC head –telling the two biggest members to do the first things first -- to put their issues back home and give momentum to the beleaguered SAARC.

- Asian Tribune -

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