Is SAARC losing its importance ?

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SAARC (SOUTH ASIAN ASSOCIATION FOR REGIONAL COOPERATION ) was formed with the primary goal for creating regional cooperation, accelerate growth and promote economic and social development. For the last 30 years, SAARC was able to create situations, where Heads of State to meet and get to talks. But despite these meets, SAARC in its history has failed to hold 11 annual summits for several reasons, both at the bilateral and internal levels. While different regions of the world have organized several summits and at achieving their goals, SAARC failed to even come up with a free trade agreement between the member states.

What is SAARC?

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a regional inter-governmental organization and geopolitical union of nations in South Asia. Its member states include, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka. SAARC comprises 3 % of the world's area, 21% of the world's population and 3.8% (USD 2.9 trillion) of the global economy. It was founded in Dhaka on 8 December 1985. Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu(Nepal). The organization promotes the development of economic and regional integration. SAARC maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.

What are the reasons?

Lack of political power:

Despite its strength, SAARC stills remain an institution with no political power. On the surface, the lack of political power almost makes the SAARC look like shark without teeth. For several years, SAARC has not fostered good interaction and growth among its members, never dream of creating strong unions like EU or ASEAN. But SAARC gets media attention when it is used as political to manipulate other countries. For example, India used it as a tool to isolate Pakistan. Besides, the fundamental problem for SAARC is a complete lack of government will from any country to turn it into power organisation.

Weak Cultural Identities:

The South Asian Region comprises many countries which share a common history, religious, economic setup, heritage and culture. But these identities have created differences and fissures. These fissures are commonly articulated through the ideas of distinct cultures. Pakistan desires to assert itself as Islamic State and tries to identify India as a Hindu country. Many international experts have pointed out that there are rigorous changes happening the in the countries of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to establish its religious and cultural identity strongly. Such pursuits of maintaining distinct cultural identity hasn’t allowed unity among the member countries.

Lack of Indian interest:

India in its SAARC’s history so far, has only remained non-serious member, despite being a strong regional power, India has never used its soft power. Indian leadership never bothered to use its economic and its political influence to establish its position as a leader amongst the nations in the group. Many international experts mention, that India had generally given equal importance and equitable treatment to all the nations regardless of their strength - often at the cost of its own well-being and interests.

Conflict between India and Pakistan:

Rivalry between India and Pakistan, the two largest members of SAARC, has cast a huge shadow over the SAARC. Despite the fact that relations between the two states have been defined by the violent partition of British India in 1947, which was followed by the Kashmir conflict and the numerous military conflicts including 1965 and 1971 wars. The regional rivalry continues to restrain SAARC from functioning as a strong organisation.

Lack of business consensus:

Along with the trouble political willpower, lack of business cooperation rendered SAARC an ineffective. Several regional corporations like ASEAN, EU, Union of South American Nation (USAN) or African Union has significantly contributed to the economic growth with their regional business agreement. But, SAARC falls behind them. According to the World Bank, trade between SAARC nations accounts for just 5% of the region’s total trade. While we compare SAARC with the other organisation such as ASEAN, the intra-SAARC trade amounts to just a little over the 1% of SAARC's GDP. In contrast, in ASEAN the intra-bloc trade stands at 10% of its GDP. One must note that ASEAN is very smaller than SAARC in terms of economic size. Though SAAFTA agreement which aims to increase intra trade among members, it has failed to sort the impending issues. SAARC as an institution was never too serious and never bothered to solve the financial constraint issues.

Conclusion

India is slowing emerging for playing a bigger role in international relations. It is currently working towards expanding SAARC by clubbing it with “look east” policy which aims to expand the country’s outreach to the other Asian nations like Philippines, Laos, Taiwan, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia- thus planning to increase the India’s sphere of influence right under China’s influence. Such an initiative is very commendable. Besides, India has already gifted a satellite to SAARC member nations. Apart from this, India readily responded by offering humanitarian aid to Nepal and Srilanka during natural calamities. Also, India successfully blocked China’s entry at the behest of Pakistan into SAARC by garnering support of other member nations.

But for any country its emergence in the international arena greatly depends on its strong influence in its own region. Its dominance should be seen its regional stability and economic prosperity. In this case, India should not afford to lose its influence in South Asia. So SAARC is really an important platform for India’s success. Besides, it will act as deterrence for other nations to intervene in south Asian region. As the member countries are spread around India, the country needs to maintain healthy relationship with its neighbors. The SAARC can create an agenda which can make sure that things in the region are in some way controllable. Such a deterrence will provide strong upper hand to India in maintaining its superiority in the region provided by its bigger landmass, strong economic growth and it's status of nuclear power.

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