SAARC has come under serious scrutiny in the last few years. Even after three decades of its existence, SAARC’s performance has been less than satisfactory, and its role in strengthening regional cooperation is being questioned.
SAARC faced setback after the 19th summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad in 2016 was suspended, Following the rising diplomatic tensions after the Uri attack, India announced its boycott ,alleging Pakistan’s involvement in the attack. Later, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives also pulled out of the summit as member countries, pointing to what they said was the absence of a conducive regional environment.
Though SAARC has established itself as a regional forum, it has failed to attain its objectives. Numerous agreements have been signed and institutional mechanisms established under SAARC, but they have not been adequately implemented.
Hereby analyzing the objectives of SAARC and why it failed.
- The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established with the signing of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka on 8 December 1985. SAARC comprises of eight Member States: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
- The Secretariat of the Association was set up in Kathmandu on 17 January 1987.
- The objectives of the Association as outlined in the SAARC Charter are:
- to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life;
- to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potentials;
- to promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia;
- to contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems;
- to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields;
- to strengthen cooperation with other developing countries;
- to strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interests; and
- to cooperate with international and regional organizations with similar aims and purposes.
Reasons for failure of SAARC
Lack of Trust :
- Lack of trust among the member countries has been the most significant factor between India and Pakistan.
- In recent times, Pakistan’s non-cooperation has stalled some major initiatives under SAARC. For instance, despite India’s keen interest in cooperating and strengthening intra-regional connectivity by backing the SAARC–MVA (Motor Vehicle Agreement) during the 18th summit , the agreement was stalled following Pakistan’s reluctance.
- Similarly, SAARC satellite project that India proposed was abandoned following objection from Pakistan in 2016.
Security cooperation :
- SAARC has also faced obstacles in the area of security cooperation. A major hindrance in this regard has been the lack of consensus on threat perceptions, since member countries disagree on the idea of threats.For example, while cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan is a major concern for India, Pakistan has failed to address these concerns.
Other reasons for the failure of SAARC :
- SAARC does not have any arrangement for resolving disputes or mediating conflicts. Disputes among the member countries often hamper consensus building, thus slowing down the decision-making process. SAARC’s inability in this regard has been detrimental to its growth.
- The asymmetry between India and other member countries in terms of geography, economy, military strength and influence in the global arena make the smaller countries apprehensive.
- They perceive India as “Big Brother” and fear that it might use the SAARC to pursue hegemony in the region.Neighboring countries have been reluctant to implement various agreements under SAARC.
- Given SAARC’s failures, member countries have turned to bilateralism, which in turn has adversely affected the organization. Bilateralism is an easier option since it calls for dealings between only two countries, whereas SAARC—at a regional level—requires one country to deal with other seven countries.
- Thus, bilateralism decreases the countries’ dependence on SAARC to achieve their objectives, making them less interested in pursuing initiatives at a regional level.
- SAARC faces a shortage of resources, and countries have been reluctant to increase their contributions.Lack of connectivity between different SAARC countries is another reason for the lackluster performance of SAARC so far.
- Trade and other relations between India and Afghanistan are hampered by the fact that they don’t share any border and connectivity through Pakistan, and is dependent upon good relations between India and Pakistan.
Why SAARC is still relevant?
- Although it has not met the expectations it has generated, but it gives opportunities for the leaders as well as the operating level officials to interact regularly and discuss issues of mutual concern is reason enough for SAARC to remain relevant.
- The problems faced by the SAARC countries are similar and distinct from other regions. Therefore the solutions are best found with mutual cooperation in the region. For this reason itself SAARC continues to be relevant.
- Growth in trade and commerce within the region is an extremely important step in this direction. Agreements for this purpose that have been signed earlier do exist. What is required is to operationalize these. If for whatever reasons some countries are not in a position to do so, it will be better for those countries that can do so to move forward.
|About SAARC & SAARC Law Conference :-
· South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established with the signing of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka on 8 December 1985. SAARC comprises of eight Member States: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Secretariat of the Association was set up in Kathmandu on 17 January 1987.
· SAARC Law Conference was established in Sri Lanka in 1991.Since then conference has provided a platform for legal professionals from South Asian region to meet and discuss issues of mutual interests pertaining to justice, legal reforms, good governance and enforcement over a span of 25 years.14th Conference held in Colombo in October 2017.
Road to Future
- At the last, it is the economy which matters for the impoverished people of the region. SAARC should be the instrument for leaders to improve the economic situation of the people of the region.
- The requirement is to concentrate its activities in core identified areas and not lose its direction by getting involved in too many activities. Since India is literally the pivot around which SAARC revolves, the major responsibility is upon India. Therefore, it needs to show willingness and undertake asymmetric responsibilities where required.
- To give momentum to this process, one or two projects at the sub-regional level could be identified and vigorously implemented within a specific time frame. These projects, if successful, can show the benefits of mutual cooperation and could persuade the doubting Thomas’s to join in.( Thomas Assessments was founded by 3 Business graduates from IIM and XLRI in India in 1997. They pioneered the concept of behavioral profiling in India and SAARC region to understand employees and build their capabilities to become more effective, thereby helping organizations to realize the True Potential of their people).
- Each SAARC country also has to realize that while the political situation in individual countries may keep on changing, the economic situation does not change so rapidly & requires serious efforts for the improvement.
- To make SAARC more effective, the organization must be reformed and member countries must reach a consensus regarding the changes required. However, considering the differences that exist among the members, particularly between India and Pakistan, such a consensus will be difficult to reach. Until the member countries resolve their issues, the future of SAARC remains uncertain.