General Studies IIIndia and NeighborhoodInternational OrganizationsINTERNATIONAL RELATION

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)


Uncertainty over the present administration in Afghanistan brought about by the Taliban takeover of power has given rise to the membership of the country in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

About SAARC:

  • It was established in 1985 (founded in Dhaka). Its secretariat/ HQ is at Kathmandu.
  • It is a regional organization that aims to promote economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific cooperation in South Asia.
  • It is a group of 8 countries. Member states include Afghanistan, Pakistan, BBIN, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Afghanistan is a part of South Asia.
  • Nepal is the chair of SAARC and next is Pakistan.
  • 2016 summit of Islamabad not held. 2017 – Kathmandu Summit.

Potential of SAARC to emerge as a successful model of cooperation among nations in a region:

  1. Demography: SAARC constitutes for 21% of the world’s population and most of its population is young. Thus, cooperation with each other is important to reap demographic dividend and thus economic prosperity of the region.
  2. Economy: SAARC comprises 3.8% (US$2.9 trillion) of the global economy. Trade and economic cooperation would become the linchpin of regional progress. With India as the economic hub, the smaller neighbours would constitute a great role in the economic rise of SAARC.
  3. Security: Priority to improve the relations in South Asia is essential for realising development agenda. It is important for India to work with its neighbour especially Pakistan to stop terrorism and risks to its citizens.
  4. International cooperation:It is important for SAARC to support each other at international platforms for shared interests. A peace in the region would enhance SAARC’s image and will attract investment in the region. For instance, it is important for India’s ambitions for a permanent seat at the UNSC.
  5. Environmental cooperation:SAARC can emerge as a model of environmental cooperation for other organisations by supporting each other’s efforts. For instance, India has established an International solar alliance and is emerging as a hub for renewable technologies and energy. India’s neighbour can be a potential partner for this green initiative.

Issues related to SAARC as an organisation:

  1. Inter-state Disputes in South Asia: One of the major hurdles in the way of cooperation among the SAARC members is the mistrust, mutual security perceptions and hostility. All the members of this organization feel in one way or another threat to their political, economic and territorial stability from the neighbouring countries.
  2. India-Pakistan relations:Relation with Pakistan, remains India’s biggest diplomatic and security challenge. India’s challenge is to manage relationships with a state which, openly, uses terror as an instrument of state policy and has fractured, multiple power centres.
  3. Colonial mindset: They are still entrapped in the historical conflicts of colonial rule and the disputed environment after the departure of Colonial Masters i.e. loss of property, lives, identities and communal violence. There are always high risks that any time the efforts for cooperation can suffer due to communal and terrorist threats.
  4. Fear of Indian Domination: Another most important cause of SAARC failure is that there is a fear of India’s hegemonic role in the region. The political, diplomatic and economic concerns felt by the member countries of SAARC in South Asia has obstructed any positive development among the member countries.
  5. Unstable Financial Positions: The SAARC members are financially and economically not very much developed. The weak financial position of the member countries has also created an uncertain future for this organization. This is not conducive for the economic integration of South Asia.
  6. Trade issues: The member countries of SAARC are not complementing each other but they are competing in fact. Mutual trade is very low. The lower level of intra-region trade in South Asia has made the objective of this organization a failure.
  7. Exclusion of Contentious Issues from SAARC Charter: The charter of SAARC itself has some self-imposed anomalies as its charter has the provision of not discussing the contentious and bilateral disputes. On the one hand, it asks for increased cooperation and exchanges and on the other hand, avoids negotiations on bilateral disputes.
  8. Lack of Strong Infrastructure: South Asian countries share some common features like cheap labour, low incomes, low value added commodities and comparative advantage in the same commodities like tea and garments etc. The intraregional trade cannot be successful in such conditions where the trade and economic structure and industrial infrastructure is similar.

Way forward:

  1. Role of India: India should play her role as an equal partner for the stability and cooperation in South Asia. SAARC significance has increased in the face of changing global and regional patterns.
  2. Formation of Conflict Conciliation Groups: The CCGs can be formed for resolving the bilateral disputes when all parties to a particular dispute agree to seek SAARC help either to investigate the problem or conduct a fact finding study. Such groups can take up studies of problems relating to exploitation of women and children and other issues on which countries from within the region agree to take steps for.
  3. Discussions on International Issues: The SAARC Charter must provide for discussions on the international issues among the leaders of the member countries especially those relating to common issues of international peace and security, trade, environment and technology transfers etc.
  4. Resolution of Bilateral Disputes: SAARC, being an emerging organization and having the potential to link the resourceful economies of South Asia, must include in its provisions to resolve the bilateral disputes peacefully and the provision of taking all the decisions unanimously.
  5. Strengthening Markets:India should work with its neighbours in strengthening their markets and its own infrastructure to its neighbours.

Though the formation of SAARC is a landmark step taken by the leaders of the region, the main rationale behind its establishment is to develop a conducive environment where all nations may interact peacefully with each other. This can be only successful if all nations cooperate. India’s efforts of launching SAARC satellite, video-conferencing on Coronavirus is an important step in this direction to work together.

Source: The Hindu

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