Life Within SAARC
Published Year: 2005
Published by: Institute
of Foreign Affairs(IFA) & Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
Editors: Dev Raj Dahal
& Nischal N. Pandey
Price: Not mentioned
By Ritu Raj Subedi
It has elapsed two decades since the SAARC came into existence
with the lofty goal of bringing about positive changes
in the life of South Asian people through mutual cooperation
and collaboration. But there are widespread frustrations
that regional body has been unable to live up to the expectations
of its people. It has only struggled to keep up it alive
by resorting to the rhetoric statements, tokenism and
ceremonial posture and by producing a bundle of commitment
papers that look impossible to implement in the conditions
marked by mistrusts, and lack of confidence and strong
political will among its players. It is not that the SAARC
made no achievement. Its achievements are very modest
compared to that of other regional organisations such
as ASEAN and European Union.
The South Asia, a home to one fifth
population of the globe, most of them living on abject
poverty, has been unable to achieve goals as enshrined
in the SAARC Charter and its various declarations largely
due to the chronic tension, intra-regional conflict and
absence of trust between India and Pakistan, occasional
hiccups in relations between India and her neighbors.
In the light of its poor performances,
the voice is getting louder, specially from the civil
society, that the member states requires a new perspective
to give impetus to its functioning that is often at slow
pace. Against this backdrop, the IFA and FES recently
brought veteran diplomats, politicians, experts and senior
army officers around the region at a seminar to put forth
their views on how to injecting a new life into the SARRC.
The collection of their thought-provoking papers resulted
in 'New Life within SAARC' that contains 17 write-ups,
which deal with diverse areas of mutual interests and
cooperation from different angles.
The authors talk about various challenges
facing the region and offer recommendations to inject
a new life in it. Majority of them calls for changing
mindset if the region is to better tackle the problems
of 21st century. Developing the region into a free trade
area, harnessing its vast natural and water resources
to meet ever-growing demand of energy consummation and
fighting the menace of terrorism are some major issues
discussed in the collection.
Former foreign minister Dr. Prakash
Chandar Lohani, in his article entitled 'What Vision for
South Asian Regional Cooperation?' tries to pinpoint the
factors behind the slow pace of the regional body. He
writes: "The fact remains that the SAARC is not in
the priority agenda of the most nations. The state apparatus
in all the countries spring into action normally during
the period of summits and then revert back to its attitude
of benign neglect."
Dr. Lohani argues that the regional
grouping must be a force to improve the lives of its denizens
if it has to move ahead forcefully.
Veteran Indian diplomat K. V. Rajan
has candidly put forth deep-seated perception among a
section of Indian politicians and bureaucrats: "There
has been an underlying conviction within a substantial
section of New Delhi's political and bureaucratic elites
that SAARC bestows an undeserved sense of equality to
its smaller neighbours, an opportunity for ganging up
to the detriment of India's interests, that India can
prosper more easily if it is not shackled to its immediate
However, at the end of the day of summit,
it is India that demonstrates self-confidence and commitment
to the long-term goal of SAARC, says Rajan. He is for
an empowered and alert civil society to do away with the
bilateral irritants that often hinder the smooth functioning
of the SAARC.
To deal with terrorism that has plagued
almost all countries of the region, the authors of the
book calls for adopting integrated approach since military
solution alone is not sufficient. In this regards, Indian
retired brigadier general Arun Sahagal offers prudent
"While military force is essential
component to contain terrorism, it is equally important
that space so created is exploited politically in terms
of addressing public grievances and underlying causes."
Mr. Sahagal writes.
"To boost SAFTA," Dr. Posh
Raj Pandey argues, "the member states must dismantle
protectionist barriers to trade and accelerate exports
Nishchal N. Pandey talks about the concept
of common currency, South Asian parliament and developing
SAFTA into economic union in the model of European Union.
Although they sound ideal, they are not entirely impossible
if the leaders move ahead with a clear vision, open mindset
and high-level commitment. Likewise, industrialist Rajendra
Khetan suggests for setting up an apex regional trade
agency and South Asian Multination to integrate it with
The tune of optimism
runs high in the book, which is useful for any reader
interested to know about SAARC as it has critically and
objectively analysed core issues and challenges of region.
It is more useful for the politicians and bureaucrats
to see the SAARC from fresh perspective.
Source: The Rising
Nepal, Friday Supplement (3 March 2006)