The more I think about this “invite SAARC leaders” move, the more layered, complex, and shrewd I realize it is. It’s kind of a small event, not a huge deal. But it’s a sign of Modi’s ability to think fresh and keep people on their toes. To jot some quick reactions about the various things that it signals all at once:
- Wins Modi brownie points because the gesture is being lauded by peaceniks and even some hawks across the region as unexpected and conciliatory
- Pakistan is the big fish here, not Maldives. But using the SAARC framework lets the new PM get off on a small relationship-building step with Sharif without signaling to his base that Pakistan specifically is being rewarded — instead, let’s make it about good neighborly relations!
- The more of the SAARC countries that accept, the more Modi looks like a regional statesman, and the more this inauguration takes on the aura of something unusually important
- The more that accept, the more India looks like SAARC’s 800 lb. gorilla.
- Puts Nawaz in a bit of a bind. If you’re him, what do you do?
- You don’t accept quickly because if Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc., decline — let’s say because their heads are committed elsewhere — you look idiotic. You also don’t want to look overly eager
- Do you go at all? Back home, would the optics of the whole thing make it look like you’ve been “summoned” to the court of the the regional hegemon to celebrate its big event? And you know you’re the big fish — why should you sit in a row of chairs next to the PMs of Nepal and Bhutan for some random civic event?
- On the other hand, if most of the others accept, do you risk looking ungracious and getting off on the wrong foot with this crazy new guy? Some tongues will start wagging about a frosty new start to Indo-Pak relations
Wonder if I’m overthinking this 🙂 I guess Sharif could just say thanks, wish you all the best, unfortunately I was already committed elsewhere and am sending my foreign minister.
Let’s see what happens.