Synopsis- SAARC has become dysfunctional and not able to meet since las 6 years. Reviving SAARC is crucial for countering common challenges in the region, amid COVID pandemic.
- The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of nations in South Asia founded in 1985 with 7 member nations.
- The group was established to promote regional economic growth through active collaboration. But in past years there has been deadlock type condition especially due to India-Pakistan conflict.
- In 2016, the Summit schedule in Pakistan got canceled in the backdrop of the terrorist attack in Pathankot and Uri. Since then, no SAARC meeting has been held.
Why SAARC failed?
The last physical SAARC summit was held in 2014 and subsequently, summits could not be held after that. The reasons for a dysfunctional SAARC are;
- First, India-Pakistan bilateral relations–Enmity between India and Pakistan is one of the main reasons why SAARC is not prospering. This long-standing conflict has impacted other meeting of SAARC as well, making it easier for member countries, as well as international agencies, to deal with South Asia as a fragmented group.
- Second, the novel coronavirus pandemic and China’s aggressions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) put a new spotlight and shadows for SAARC meeting.
India’s position on not attending SAARC is particularly confusing. It has been attending SCO meeting even after clashes with China and engaged with Nepal even after boundary related issues.
Why reviving SAARC can be helpful in countering the common challenges?
- Pandemic Challenges–.
- First, South Asia’s experience of the pandemic has been very unique. The COVID-19 has provided a window for introspection and for scaling up preparedness for inevitable pandemics in the future.
- Second, a Collaborative approach is also necessary for the distribution and further trials needs for the vaccine as well as developing cold storage chain.
- Third, the pandemic’s impact on South Asian economies– The economic consequences of COVID -19 on South Asia are proving to be even greater than the health Challenges in the region.
- China’s Factor in SAARC– Amid India- China border tensions, as part of its global expansionism, China is chipping away at India’s interests in South Asia, a unified South Asian platform remains India’s most potent countermeasure.
- China expanding footprints in South Asia by investments in trade, tourism, BRI, and other programs should be given attention. All SAARC members except Bhutan, are Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partners of China will be hard placed to help individually.
- Only a matter of time before china, it may hold a meeting of all SAARC countries except minus India and Bhutan for they are all part of the BRI, and even that they will be invited to join RCEP, which India declined.
- To make SAARC more effective the organization must be reformed and member countries must reach a consensus regarding the changes required.
- The tragedy of Covid-19 provided an opportunity for India to demonstrate its compassionate face to secure a region at peace with itself
- In dealing with the challenge from China too, both at India’s borders and in its neighborhood, a unified South Asian platform remains India’s most potent countermeasure.