SAARC is a regional organization of South Asian nations. SAARC can be called as one of the worst example of a regional integration. SAARC caravan is like a jammed vehicle. SAARC is in deadlock since 2016 after Pathankot attack in Jan 2016.
South Asia is the least integrated of all regions with the exception of middle east. However regional integration is extremely urgent in SAARC. Regional integration is a means to transform conflict prone inter-relations by creating interdependence in economic and security issues.
Features of South Asia
1_The largest number of poors in the world.
2_Most vulnerable to natural disasters.
3_Extremely vulnerable to nuclear war.
4_Extremely vulnerable to conventional and non conventional security threats like human trafficking, organized crime, religious extremism.
5_South Asia has been extremely vulnerable to the great power politics because of its strategic location. South Asia is a conflictual region in the arc of instability starting from Eastern Africa to Middle East and reaching to South East Asia. Hence there is an urgent need of regional integration. 21st century have changed the idea of security, created complex interdependence, compelled neighbours to change their approach. We hardly live in the world where we can make hay when neighbours house is burning. The old Kautilyan approach where neighbour is a natural enemy is hardly sustainable.
History of SAARC. SAARC is a brainchild of Bangladeshi President Zia-ur-Rehman. It came into existence in 1985. Afghanistan joined in 2007.
Objectives of SAARC. Peace and prosperity.
Principles of SAARC. SAARC is based on the principles of Panchsheel. Panchsheel is based on Westphalian idea i.e. respect for sovereignty, non interference in domestic affairs.
Decision making at SAARC. SAARC takes decision by consensus.
Achievements of SAARC.
According to former prime minister Manmohan Singh, it depends upon how we look at SAARC. There can be two ways i) Glass is half filled. ii) Glass is half empty.
In comparison to EU and ASEAN, SAARC has no significant achievements. i) Intra-regional trade stagnated. ii) No chance of SAFTA coming into existence. iii) The idea of South Asian community is unthinkable.
Achievements of SAARC. i) SAARC satellite. ii) South Asian University. iii) South Asian food bank. iv) South Asian Film Festival. v) South Asian milk grid. vi) South Asia agency for DMM. vii) South Asia federation games.
Reasons of the failure of SAARC.
Though the relations between India and Pakistan, the two largest countries of SAARC are responsible for the failure of SAARC to great extent, yet there are some structural problems in SAARC.
What are these structural problems?
SAARC is a platform with negative mindset. Other regional organizations have been formed with the view of cooperation. SAARC was formed with the view to challenge India’s regional hegemony. It was thought that SAARC will be a coalition of Indian neighbours, to balance India. This is the reason India was against joining SAARC. SAARC would be a India dominated platform was a reason that Pakistan was also against SAARC. Later on Pakistan thought, not to leave India free and joined SAARC to oppose Indian proposals.
In other regional organizations, there has been an external push factor like USA in EU and ASEAN. There was no external push factor, rather South Asia became prey to superpower rivalry.
Unlike other regions where such a huge asymmetry does not exist like in case of South Asia, regional integration took place.
South Asian economies have been inward looking hence no scope for economic interdependence.
South Asian nations, India Pakistan and Bangladesh have been a single unit before partition of the subcontinent. Since these nations are new, their own national identity remains in crisis. It is difficult to accept the transfer of their sovereignty.
Pakistan is still suffering the crisis of its identity. The two nation theory suffered setback in 1971 hence Pakistan wants to strengthen its separate identity rather than strengthening South Asian identity. Pakistan has been trying to be recognized as the heart Asia. Even Sri Lanka tried to be the part of South East Asia. It is said that South Asia is a name looking for place on the map. South Asia is actually a new phrase for the Indian subcontinent which ensures the centrality of India.
The foreign policy followed by India towards smaller neighbours has been a continuation of British Foreign Policy. India has been seen as ‘bullying big brother’. Since the integration of Sikkim, formation of Bangladesh, IPKF mission in Sri Lanka, Indian neighbours look at India as imperialist power, they tend to look towards China as a counter weight.
India lacks the soft power in the region. India does not differ from other neighbours in terms of governance, human development, in some contexts, India’s performance is worst.
The SAARC decision making based on consensus is also problematic and there is need that SAARC countries should adopt some sort of qualified voting.
Connectivity is the key to regional integration to promote trade. So long the trust deficit exists between India and Pakistan, SAARC will not be able to achieve the transit agreement, which is crucial.
Future prospects of SAARC
No light at the end of the tunnel. Why? India Pakistan relations are at their worst. India is following the policy of SAARC minus Pakistan.
Once CPEC becomes a reality, there will be no motivation for Pakistan to have regional integration with South Asia. CPEC will transform the geography of South Asia. Thus the chances are very poor. India has already shifted the focus towards BIMSTEC i.e. SAARC minus Pakistan.
However at present Pakistan is maintaining the ritual to keep SAARC alive.
Why Pakistan wants SAARC should be alive?
China wants entry in SAARC. Since India is avoiding FTA with China, RCEP is uncertain, China’s presence in South Asia will appear more legitimate through SAARC.
What is India’s attitude towards China’s entry in SAARC?
India does not want China’s entry as India will become weak in its own region. South Asian neighbours will go for bandwagoning with China to counterbalance India.
What is India’s position?
India is not against expansion of SAARC but India insists first on the consolidation of SAARC. Since China included India in SCO, it becomes difficult for India to oppose China’s entry.
Should China be allowed in SAARC?
Yes, China should be allowed in SAARC.
1) China is already there in South Asia.
2) If China comes, SAARC may start working. The smaller countries of South Asia may get more confidence. South Asia needs lot of investment for infrastructure development. However it is just an academic view that China should be in SAARC. India will never agree to China’s presence, specifically in North East.
3) Even Pakistan would not be willing that SAARC becomes successful because the success of SAARC means annulment of partition.
4) China wants entry in SAARC. Since India is avoiding FTA with China, RCEP is uncertain, China’s presence in South Asia will appear more legitimate through SAARC.
‘I dream of a day, while retaining our respective national identities, one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore, dinner in Kabul, that is how my forefathers lived and that is how I want our grandchildren to live.’Manmohan Singh on Vision of South Asia
Short Note on SAFTA
In 2004, at Islamabad summit, countries agreed for SAFTA to be operational by 2016.
South Asian countries introduced PTA (Preferential Trading Agreement in 1997, but it has not resulted into any increase in trade. Reasons? Positive list concept. Subjects in the positive list were such, which were not traded.)
Why SAFTA? It was US pressure to normalize the relations.
Sensitive list concept.
Dispute settlement body.
Liberal rules of origin.
Common but differentiated responsibilities.
In a recent meeting held in Dec 2018 @ Islamabad, representatives from Pakistan included a minister from PoK. India had objection to it, Indian diplomat attending the event had walked out in protest and India demanded South Asian nations to de-recognize SCCI (SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry).
SCCI is one of the SAARC’s most active bodies.
Views of Scholars.
Views of Sanjay Baru.
Book – INDIA AND THE WORLD: ESSAYS ON GEOECONOMICS AND FOREIGN POLICY.
The three factors have shaped the formation of regional organizations. 1_Market driven economy.
2_Movement of people across borders.
All are missing. Instead of trade deficit, there is a trust deficit.
At present, out of three processes. 1) Govt. to Govt. G2G. 2) P2P – People to People. 3) Business to Business (B2B). Only G2G operates.
In South Asia, there has been no flying geese factor.
Being a good neighbour – Article in The Hindu by Happymon Jacob.
India’s attitude with neighbourhood has not been so good. Delhi considers them irritants and challenges rather than opportunity.
Lessons from past
1_India must deal with tricky situations in more diplomatic manner. Way India dealt with Nepal during constitution making in 2015 was very sad.
2_No to meddle with domestic politics.
3_New Delhi must not fail to follow up on its promises to its neighbours. It has terrible track record in this regard.
4_There is no point in competing with China, especially in domains where China has advantage. e.g. Infrastructure projects. India should better invest in institution building and use of soft power. e.g. SAU (South Asia University) can become point of integration.
India must have long term vision of neighbourhood devoid of rhetorics. A goal must be established and all attempts should reflects march towards such a goal.