What is SAARC? Who are its members? What are its areas of cooperation? What are its significance and issues? To answer these questions, read further.
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC, is an intergovernmental body that promotes the growth of regional and economic cooperation.
It can be called one of the worst examples of regional integration. It is sometimes called like a jammed vehicle. It is in a deadlock since 2016 after the Pathankot attack.
South Asia is the least integrated of all the nations except the Middle East.
However, regional integration is extremely urgent in SAARC as it is a means to transform the conflict-prone nature of relations by creating interdependence in economic and security issues.
The SAARC Charter was ratified in Dhaka on December 8, 1985, establishing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
In November 1980, the concept of regional cooperation in South Asia was initially proposed.
The Association’s headquarters and secretariat are located in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Who are the SAARC’s Members?
Eight countries comprise SAARC:
- the Maldives
- South Asia
Currently, SAARC has nine observers:
- The European Union
- The Republic of Korea
- The United States of America.
Need for SAARC:
It has been extremely vulnerable to great power politics due to its strategic location for it is the conflict in the region in the hour of instability. There is an urgent need for regional integration.
The 21st century has changed the idea of security, create complex interdependence, and compelled neighbors to change their approach.
The old Kautilyan approach where the neighbor is a natural enemy is hardly sustainable.
History: It is the brainchild of Zia-ur-Rehman the Bangladesh President and came into existence in 1985.
The objective of SAARC is peace and prosperity.
The principle of SAARC is based on the principles of Panchsheel which are based on respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic affairs
The decision-making at SAARC is decided by consensus.
The achievements of SAARC according to Manmohan Singh depend upon how we look at it.
In comparison to European Union and ASEAN, it has no significant achievement as the intra-regional trait is stagnant. There is no chance of SAFTA coming into existence, as well as the idea of the South Asian community is unthinkable.
Generally, its achievements are the satellite, the South Asian University, the South Asian food Bank, the South Asian film festival, the South Asian milk grid, the South Asian agency for disaster the South Asian Federation games.
Structure of SAARC:
Council: It is the highest policy-making body. Government leaders from the individual member nations serve as the council’s representatives.
Council of Ministers: The Council of Ministers is made up of foreign ministers, and it usually meets twice a year.
Areas for SAARC Nations’ Cooperation:
- Agricultural development
- Tourism and Human Resource Development
- Economic, Trade, and Finance
- Social Services
- Natural disasters, the environment, and biotechnology
- Education, health, culture, and other factors
- Raising awareness and reducing poverty
- Transportation, Science, Energy, and Technology
The importance of SAARC:
SAARC nations cooperate in their efforts because they have a shared political outlook, as well as traditions relating to dress, food, and culture.
To boost their internal trade, the member nations established a free trade zone.
The SAARC has also significantly aided the advancement of track-two projects and civil society.
The region is bothof the most fertile and densely populated regions in the world.
No alternative can bring South Asian nations together for mutually beneficial diplomatic relations.
The SAARC countries share issues including poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, natural disasters, internal strife, industrial and technological backwardness, low GDP, and a fragile socio-economic situation.
Since SAARC is the largest regional cooperation organization, its significance in establishing stability and enacting effective change in the area is becoming more evident.
The reason for the failure of the organization is India-Pakistan relations. The two largest SAARC countries are responsible for the failure to a great extent yet there are some structural and fundamental problems in SAARC.
One of the reasons for the failure is that SAARC is a platform with a negative mindset.
SAARC would be an India-dominated platform was the reason Pakistan opposed it. Later Pakistan thought not to leave India and joined to oppose India’s proposal.
In other regional organizations, there has been an external factor but there was no push factor here rather South Asia became praise to superpower rivalry
Pakistan is still suffering from an Identity crisis hence it wants to strengthen its separate identity rather than strengthening the South Asian identity. Pakistan has been trying to be recognized as a part of West Asia.
In 2016, Pakistan objected to India’s proposed SAARC satellite project, which was subsequently abandoned.
Even Sri Lanka tries to be a part of southeast Asia. It is said that South Asia is a name looking for a place on the map. It is a new name for the Indian subcontinent which ensures the centrality of India
India has been seen as a Bully Big Brother since the integration of Sikkim, and the formation of Bangladesh. The Indian neighbors look at India as an imperialist power. They tend to look toward China as the counterweight.
India lacks soft power in the region. India doesn’t differ from other neighbors in terms of governance and Human Development. In some contexts, India’s performance is even worse than others
The decision-making process based on consensus is also problematic and there is a need that the countries should adopt some sort of qualified method.
Under SAARC, numerous agreements have been negotiated and institutional frameworks created, but they have not been properly put into practice.
SAARC was advised to work on transforming South Asia into a Free Trade Area by 2010, a Customs Union by 2015, and an Economic Union similar to the EU by 2020. It is still just a dream.
Little has been done by SAARC to combat the coronavirus outbreak. When the nations most needed each other, they did nothing.
There is no light at the end of the tunnel. India-Pakistan relations are at their worst and thus the chances are very poor. India has already shifted its focus towards BIMSTEC. However, at present Pakistan is maintaining the ritual to keep it alive as China wants entry into SAARC.
India does not want China’s entry as India will become weak in its region. India is not against the expansion of this but it insists on its consolidation of it.
The SAARC has the power to unite nations. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “If you want to make peace with your opponent, you have to work with your opponent.” Then he becomes your partner.
Allowing SAARC to deteriorate and lose relevance severely impairs our capacity to respond to the reality and growing problems that SAARC nations are currently experiencing.
The “ASEAN minus X” model, which allows countries who are unwilling to join the consensus to join at a later time while not impeding members that want to move forward could be adopted by SAARC.
The organization represents the South Asian identity of the member countries. It should be looked into by the member nations to see if it can help to keep the area peaceful and stable.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once said that I dream of a day while retaining our respective National identities one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore, and dinner in Kabul that is how our forefathers live and that is how I want our children to live.
Article written by Chetna Yadav.