Failure of SAARC disappointing for member countries

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By Senator Rehman Malik

In a calculated bid to enhance the cooperation, SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) was established in 1985 by the nations of South Asian region that include Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan. Upon creation of SAARC each country agreed to cooperate in formation of trade bloc and to perform together for the economic and political development of the region.  However, SAARC is losing its importance by every passing year. It was established with great doable charter for its member countries.  

South Asia has multiple issues due to certain bilateral-complicated issues, which is one of the factors for the political division. South Asia is one of the backward and underdeveloped regions in the world and there is a dire need for development and a higher rate of economic growth in all the member countries of the region, but no favourable steps have been taken by the members to fulfil the need. 

The region hosts 24.78 per cent of the world’s population but accounts for only $11.64 trillion of the world’s GDP (at PPP). Factors like poverty, illiteracy, inequality, unemployment, low productivity and malnourishment are haunting the population of the region.   It is pity that this forum has fallen victim of regional politics and could not grow to the expectation of the people as the member states have not been able to strengthen their economic ties to a significant extent to work together towards the development of the region.

There is a need of collaboration for developing their industrial and social sectors and improving their political ties.

I myself represented Pakistan in SAARC Meeting of Experts on the implementation of the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism, Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1990.  My proposal of establishing SARAC-POL (like Interpol) despite approval could not be established.  As part of the SARAC charter the signatory countries agreed upon the following five areas of cooperation: 

• Agriculture and Rural Development 

• Telecommunications, Science, Technology and Meteorology 

• Health and Population Activities 

• Transport 

• Human Resource Development

As keen observer of development of this region I regret to note that there has been no notable achievement made by SAARC so far.  SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) was made by SAARC, which came into force on the first day of 2006 but this agreement has never been implemented till today. 

They also established fields of cooperation like environment, economic development, energy and sharing criminal data of criminals, but again, none of this either proved to be fruitful. 

SAPTA South Asia Preferential Trading Agreement was also formed by them in 1995 in order to promote trade amongst the member countries.  

At the time of creation of SAARC, it was decided unanimously that no bilateral issue would be discussed at this forum but these issues have always dominantly emerged affecting the performance of SAARC. The blame games and the inter-states conflicts amongst the member countries have caused further harm to the foundation of SAARC.  It is unfortunate that instead of dealing with the problems jointly the members are blaming each other for the terrorism, violence, extremism and sectarianism happening in the region.

The inclusion of Afghanistan, back in 2005 is said to be the calculated move by India to undermine Pakistan’s position in SAARC. The increasing ties between India and Afghanistan and India’s financial support to Afghanistan are a clear signal that both are willing to destabilize Pakistan. 

The region is further encountered with many unresolved border and maritime issues including terrorism by Afghan Taliban, refugee crisis, smuggling, narco-trade, Kashmir dispute, disputes between India and Sri Lanka over nationality of Tamilians, India and Nepal issue over border, disputes between India and Bangladesh over Chittagong refugees etc.

I would like to say that over the period of time India has developed its high level of influence on Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan as it has 70% area amongst all SAARC countries. Also the small countries do not share border with each other except for Pakistan- Afghanistan.  These countries have become like satellites of India. In many of the occasions, India either by itself or by using other member country seizes the authority to cancel the meetings of SAARC.   Pakistan tried to hold and host the meetings twice in the past but India did not let it happen because of number game to block any meeting. The details of these two incidents damaged the credibility of the SAARC. 

The continuous time to time delay in different SAARC summits following various pretext particularly at the behest of India have paralysed the organisation. It can never function independently and effectively unless it gets out of the clutches of India. Due to this assumed dominant position of India in the region it has a hegemonic role in the region creating the sense of insecurity among other members of the association.

In 1988, at the conclusion of three-day Summit, then Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto addressed the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which was attended by the premiers of seven member states; Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi, Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene, President Hussain Mohammad Ershad of Bangladesh, King Birendra of Nepal, King Sigme Wanchuk of Bhutan and Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. She was the elected chairperson of SAARC for the next year at the inaugural session of the summit. It was the fourth such conference since the association was founded in Dhaka in 1985. 

In her address to the delegates of the summit she said:

 ‘Mutual suspicions and rivalries have divided our countries in the past and kept them from coming together whole-heartedly in joint endeavours for the good of all our peoples,’  ‘Some of us are spending too great a proportion of our national resources on defense, maintaining large military forces that face each other. The truth is that our people face the same common problems – poverty, disease, slums and ignorance — and it is to the vanquishing of these enemies that we should direct all our efforts.’

It was an idea to become one economic strong block in the interest of citizens of each country.

Let us confess that the SAARC has failed to achieve its original targets.  I propose veto power must be done away with.  What happened in Maldives at the behest of its neighbouring country is a matter of record. Nepal continues to be terrorised by India and has become subservient nation to it.

It would have been a historic achievement if SAARC had played its role to resolve the issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan or Pakistan and India. I have hardly seen even a single effort to resolve these pressing issues. 

(The writer is Chairman of think tank “global eye” & former Interior Minister of Pakistan

 rmalik1212@gmail .com @GlobalEye_GSA. Twitter @ Senrehmanmalik, @GlobalEye_GSA