- After India, Three more countries of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation(SAARC )refused to participate in this year SAARC summit citing alleged involvement of Pakistan state in terrorism related activities. Current situation in south Asia poses the threat to regional stability along with relevance of SAARC as an institution.
- SAARC was established in 1980, with its secretarial office in Kathmandu, Nepal, based on the membership of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Afghanistan was included in 2007 as a member.
- The objective of establishing SAARC was to promote regional cooperation between member countries, like the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The guiding principles of SAARC are:
- Respect the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in internal affairs of other states and mutual benefit.
- It is no substitute for bilateral and multilateral cooperation but complements them.
- Its obligation shall not be inconsistent with bilateral and multilateral obligation; the charter excluded bilateral and contentious issues from its deliberations..
SAARC as a success
- Two nuclear states (Pakistan, India) and almost 1.5 billion people of the world’s population of this region increase the importance of this area. So, it was a demand for a joint converged platform for an economic development and cooperation between the member states of this region.
- SAARC has managed to create situations, institutions and forums where Heads of State have had to shake each other’s’ hands and go into talks together.
- SAARC has tackled important topics for the region such as a social charter, development agreements and even the sensitive subject of fighting terrorism.
- The food and development banks, Agreement on Transportation, Energy are important steps in the right direction.
- Exchanges in the areas of civil society and science have become one of the pillars of South Asian integration efforts.
- In recent years, some countries like China and Iran show their concern over the membership in SAARC. Due to the significant importance of this region, many European states are now the observer of this organization.
- But today this region is facing many issues like terrorism, poverty, deprivation of food, drug trafficking, extremism, and economic crisis. These core issues cannot be resolved at bilateral level. It is significant to have a joint effort and close coordination among the member countries to solve these threatening issues.
- SAARC, as a regional forum, has great potential, but this potential of regional cooperation cannot be realised without strong bilateral linkages. Given the asymmetry inherent in the geographical, economic and strategic dimensions of the eight member countries, meaningful cooperation can materialise only when there is mutual trust and willingness among member countries to resolve and overcome bilateral differences and apprehensions for the greater good of their own people.
Impediments To the success of SAARC
Fear of Dominance of India
- India by virtue of its natural endowments and wider economic base and capability occupies a predominant role in South Asia. India’s small neighbors, realized that India wants to convert its natural preponderance into political preponderance because of such a perception of Indian domination. These small neighbours seek to balance the “big brother” by developing close ties with other giants (USA, China, Japan etc.) external to the region; and this perception hinders regional cooperation.
- Military takeovers in Pakistan and frequent political change in India and Bangladesh fall under the rubric of systemic crisis which derail the process of cooperation in the region.
Bilateral Political issues
- Bilateral problems and defence expenditure, chronic in the region, has often led to postponement of SAARC summits which is a big setback. Frequent border skirmishes between India and Bangladesh before Land boundary agreement , issue of refugees between Bhutan and Nepal , the irritants in relations between India and Nepal over the open border, disputes between India and Sri Lanka over the Tamil ethnic issue and other sporadic events have constrained the growth of regional cooperation in the region.
- However, it is the unremitting hostility between India and Pakistan, which has greatly undermined the growth of SAARC.
- Differential development levels and glaring economic inequalities in the region in areas of trade, manufacture and services make it difficult, if not impossible, to carry out a viable economic system out of the unequal
- Intra-regional trade among the SAARC countries as a percentage of global trade has been only 4 per cent. Restrictive trade policies of the SAARC countries, dominance of foreign capital, competitive behaviour of economies, communication gap and lack of monetary cooperation etc. are the primary reasons for such a low volume of trade among the SAARC countries.
Diverse economic interest
- The SAARC countries differed widely at North-South dialogues and GATT negotiations, South-South negotiations, GATT and NAM because of diverse economic and geopolitical interest.
- Western European co-operation is reinforced, internally by alliances among powerful industrial, agricultural, humanitarian and labour interest across borders. But the SAARC is not in such an environment in practice. (v) WB / IMF design development strategy for the loan / aid recipients of this region most of the time which contradicts the policy of individual country.
- Security challenges in South Asia depend largely on how the relations in Asia, or more specifically, relations between some of the bigger states like China, India, Japan and Russia with the major power, such as the US develop.
- It appears that the US has started thinking of India as a “counterweight” to China because it is the only country in Asia which can match China in population, trained technical manpower, development of information technology and its potential in developing as a military superpower. The US no longer regards Russia as a threat to its security. China is an ally of Pakistan and helped it in many ways.
- Instability in Afghanistan and its unpredictable future have become the most serious security problem for the whole of Central and South Asian region where India and Pakistan virtually play on opposite poles.
- If the above concerns are to be surmounted, India should play a pivotal role by removing the perceived mistrust and sense of insecurity among the member nations.
- First and foremost, it needs to focus on improving bilateral ties with Pakistan for better cooperation and trade between the two countries, which can bring prosperity to the people on both sides of the divide.
- Pakistan, on the other hand, should grant MNF status to India and improve road and rail connectivity between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan for the movement of goods between these three countries. Both India and Pakistan can play a significant role in combating terrorism. They can also play a pivotal role in improving the economies of smaller countries like the Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal by increasing imports from these countries, by investing in their infrastructural facilities and improving trade between all SAARC countries.
- The cooperation between members will give a fillip to SAARC to help it realise its objective of giving every individual the “opportunity to live in dignity and to realise their full potential”.
- SAARC can also play a pivotal role in encouraging collaboration in the fields of economics, culture, technology and science. However, all this is possible only when India and Pakistan improve their bilateral relations, a sine qua non for the success of SAARC.