South Asia Regional Cooperation & Integration is Presently a Mirage by Subhash Kapila SignUp

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South Asia Regional Cooperation & Integration
is Presently a Mirage
by Dr. Subhash Kapila Bookmark and Share

The 14th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit was held in New Delhi in the first week of April 2007. The idea of creation of SAARC came to the fore in the early 1980s and the organization came into existence in 1985. The aim was noble in that it was sought through this organization that regional cooperation and integration in South Asia could be brought about on the lines that was crafted by ASEAN in South East Asia and the European Union in Europe.

The year 2007 marks the twenty second year of the existence of SAARC but as would be seen that the recently concluded Summit was the 14th Summit only. Eight Summits which are to be held annually could not be held due to strong differences or conflict between the leading member states in the past. This is itself is a strong indicator of the fragility of the motivation of the South Asian nations towards regional cooperation. 

The outcome of the 14th SAARC Summit is yet another indicator that effective and substantive regional cooperation and integration in South Asia is presently still a mirage and a long and difficult distance still remains to be covered to reach the success achieved by ASEAN or the European Union.

India as the current Chairman tried to steer the outcome of the Summit towards non-controversial areas of regional cooperation where the prospects of cooperation would be more and less likely to be impacted by the political divides that exist in South Asia. The more significant projects fostering regional cooperation that emerged during this Summit were the establishment of the SAARC Development Fund, the SAARC Food Bank and India's offer to establish a South Asian University.

The main thrust by India during this Summit was on building SAARC physical connectivities , in education and peoples ' to- peoples contact. India on its own accord announced unilateral trade concessions and access to Indian markets to the Least Developed Countries of SAARC thereby ruling out Pakistan which has refused so far to budge from its position of not extending the SAFTA trade provisions to India on the plea that this can only take place once the 'core issues' between Pakistan and India are solved.

This Summit was distinguished by the admittance of Afghanistan as the eighth member nation of SAARC and attendance by five countries given 'observer status', namely, USA, European Union, China, Japan and South Korea. Iran's application for 'observer status' was approved.

One cannot but help commenting that the admittance of so many 'foreign observer nations' into SAARC does not reflect that South Asian nations have all of a sudden acquired global prominence. It is the global prominence that India has acquired that has spurred these nations to observe the proceedings of SAARC. It seems inconceivable that USA or China can influence proceedings in favor of their South Asian prot'g' i.e. Pakistan.

As is common with all SAARC Summits, a Delhi Declaration was issued on culmination of the Summit which incorporated 30 points all stressing partnership for progress and economic cooperation.

In the overall analysis it needs to be said that what were prominently missing from the current SAARC Summit were substantive achievements in terms of South Asian cooperation on the twin challenges of terrorism and removing trade barriers.

The common criticism leveled against SAARC Summits has always been that there are a lot of Declarations but no actionable programs or implementation of Declarations. The same seems to hold good this year too.

Where SAARC needs connectivities most are 'political connectivities' that could bind South Asian nations in a common endeavor towards meaningful South Asian regional cooperation and integration. That vision will only materialize when the deficit of trust is eradicated more significantly by Pakistan. Till then the concept of SAARC will remain a mirage.  

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