The SAARC Summit has always been held hostage to the relations between its two largest, nuclear-armed members, whose intractable bilateral relations have nullified any meaningful progress. The last two summits were cancelled on account of sour Indo-Pak relations. This year is no different, after months of cross border skirmishes and hostile posturing, the summit may be overshadowed by squabbles.

Nepal is paying peacemaker, trying hard to make the two Prime Ministers talk. In the highly likely scenario that they do, a breakthrough should not be expected. The issue is fresh in memory, and tempers are still flared. Furthermore, the problems are too multi-faceted to be solved in a single head of the state meeting, although immediate cessation of shelling just may be within reach.

The much more important development will be the role of China, who is part of the summit as an observer state. It is pushing to become a full member; considering each SAARC country does more trade with China than amongst each other and factoring in the fact that it shares borders with five members, makes it a justifiable call. The inclusion of China could act as a significant counterbalance in the lopsided summit dominated by Pakistan and India. It can further dampen Pakistani paranoia about Indian influence in the summit and bring China and India together in a regional summit. Despite enthusiastic cooperation in the BRICS initiative, India seems hesitant to include China in a forum where the common table is needed the most; where its border disputes and rival economic activity could come under pressure.

The official agenda is regional connectivity; such as the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement, which aims to create suitable conditions for seamless movement of goods and people throughout the eight member countries, in the EU vein. It is an ambitious agenda, and perhaps the necessary one, since inter region trade is pitifully low compared to other continents and the collateral intermingling of culture and enterprise can perhaps rebuild trust. Will Pakistan provide India land access to Afghanistan? Will India consider a less strict visa policy towards Pakistan? The only stumbling block, once again, remain Indo-Pak relations.