NEW DELHI (AFP) -India’s new premier heads to his first South Asia summit this week seeking stronger regional integration in the face of growing Chinese influence, but experts see little hope of progress while tensions with Pakistan persist.
The region’s first summit in three years follows some of the worst cross-border violence in Kashmir in a decade, and comes as NATO-led troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan, intensifying the India-Pakistan rivalry as the countries vie for influence there.
New Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a charm offensive on India’s neighbours after winning a landslide election victory this year, raising hopes he would reinvigorate the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
The Washington-based Brookings Institution said Modi had “boldly stroked new hope for the future of SAARC” after a dismal past performance that earned it a reputation as the “unruly stepchild” of international organisations.
But expectations of progress at the summit have dimmed in recent weeks “owing to the escalation along the India-Pakistan border beyond the quotidian skirmishes that typically characterise this region”, Brookings said in a recent briefing.
Modi raised hopes of a softening in relations with Islamabad when he invited all the SAARC leaders, including his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, to his swearing-in.
But any hopes of a reconciliation were dashed when India angrily cancelled senior-level talks with Pakistan just months later, after Islamabad’s envoy to New Delhi met with Kashmiri separatists.