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SAARC Issues

New Life Within SAARC

Published Year: 2005

Published by: Institute of Foreign Affairs(IFA) & Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Editors: Dev Raj Dahal & Nischal N. Pandey

Price: Not mentioned

Pages: 189

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 neighborhood."

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 ideas.

"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 between them."

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 global economy.

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)

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