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Will SAARC ever live to its ideal or it will remain a flogging horse

There are times when reaching to the solution of a problem seems impossible, dead end ahead. Then sometimes history may help. History has proven that alliances do not always yields favourable results. SAARC is an alliance of South Asian nations- Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and a central Asian country, Afghanistan which joined the alliance in 2007. In 1985, SAARC came into existence with a plethora of objectives which includes improvement in trade among member nations, to accelerate economic growth, social progress, cultural and technical development, to strengthen cooperation in international forums and to improve quality of life of peoples of South Asia. Today, after more than three decades of its formation, where has SAARC reached and where the people of these countries reached?

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Objective of SAARC states that members promote one another in international forums but unfortunately this objective remains confined to the charter only. India is a member of G4, trying to become a permanent member of UN Security Council. But Pakistan joined Coffee Club to oppose India's bid. SAARC charter also gave emphasis on improving quality of life of peoples of South Asia, but everyone knows the reality. Population is increasing by leaps and bounds, but health care facilities still needs to move a long way. However, some changes have been noticed like complete eradication of diseases like malaria, polio from some member states but the question is whether this success is attributed to individual nation or the association? SAARC aims to improve trade relations among members. For that, South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) was envisaged and members were expected to lower trade duties. During normal time everything goes well but when tension arises, we even witness call for trade ban between two countries. Another objective is to accelerate cultural development and social progress. In the present context, this objective seems as if made once and forgotten for good! Nations like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have extremist radical elements inside. Cultural development is not development of a single culture; it means assimilation of various cultures. Until and unless cultures of minority communities are respected in these countries, we can never hope to see this objective of SAARC getting fulfilled.

Principles of SAARC include respect for sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in internal affairs of other states and mutual benefit. Comparison of these written principles with ground realities reflects an entirely different scenario. India and Pakistan are continually fighting for territories. If we join Indian version and Pakistani version of their national maps, we would come across two Jammu and Kashmir! Border dispute between India and Bangladesh was solved only few years back and that was not because of SAARC. Thankfully, Maldives and Sri Lanka are island nations! So far as non-interference in internal affairs is concerned, Bangladesh always alleges Pakistan to interfere in its domestic affairs which they presented as their reason for boycotting 19th SAARC Summit. A section of Nepali people alleges India to interfere in its internal matters; allegations went high during Nepali constitution formation. All SAARC nations aim to end terrorism but the irony is that Pakistan is regarded as production house of terrorists and Afghanistan their workplace. As far as one's mind can run, one cannot remember any concrete step taken in SAARC meetings against terrorism.

SAARC meetings seem like annual meet of undeclared enemies. Leaders meet once a year and declare a joint statement. In 2016, even that annual meet was not held. The members of SAARC have the potential and resources to make the region achieve stability and prosperity. They have the manpower, natural resources and favourable geographical conditions to change the life of individuals but they lack unity. Windmills can be established in Afghanistan and Pakistan, oil can be brought through Afghanistan, water can be made available from India and Bangladesh, Tea, Coffee, Cotton and other items can be exported from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, ocean energy can be generated from Sri Lanka and Maldives, tourist hubs can be formed in Nepal and Bhutan and much more can be done. Thus SAARC, if moves on with all together lot more can be achieved. The member states needs to remove the ills crept within, protesting together against all odds, put controversies aside and take such decisions which benefit the entire region as a whole. If the members want to save SAARC from becoming a flogging horse, then they must unite and work towards a common goal to turn the written words of SAARC charter into a reality.

- Twinkle