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Causes of failure of SAARC Essay

THE two-day 16th summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) held in Bhutanese capital of Thimpu on April 28-29 concluded with a joint declaration expressing the resolve of their leaders to wage common struggle for economic development, improve their inter connectivity, promote people to people contacts and evolve a joint strategy to tackle the issues of climate change, water and food shortages.

During the last quarter of the previous century international relations witnessed a strong surge towards regionalism. The underlying idea was to promote peace and economic progress through multilateral partnership of states in the region by pooling the available resources. Further impetus was provided by the emergence of new issues that threatened the fabric of international norms, such as terrorism, drug trafficking, extremism, and economic crisis. It was realised that these problems could not be solved at bilateral level and required joint efforts and close coordination. Accordingly regional groupings such as ECO, GCC, Asean and Saarc emerged.

Saarc came into being in December 1985, with the adoption of its charter in Dhaka. The objectives were to promote the welfare and improve the quality of life of the people of South Asia by accelerating economic growth in the region and building up mutual trust among the member states. The importance of Saarc as a regional organisation despite its rather unsatisfactory record, is recognised by all leaders. The feeling that peace and prosperity are indivisible and that the South Asia region has a common destiny and a shared struggle for a better and brighter future has emerged dominant theme.

The leaders who gathered in Thimpu made a frank appraisal and acknowledged that the organisation has failed to live up “to the hope and aspiration of 1/5th of humanity” represented by Saarc members. The Prime Minister of Bhutan also expressed the hope that Saarc will not turn into just “a talk shop”.

This honest confession that “the bloc has not moved away from declarations of intent to concrete implementation”, should however not blind us to the achievements.

Its performance has not been entirely dismal. Despite failings, a number of significant achievements such as (i) The Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism (ii) Saarc Agriculture Information Centre at Dhaka (iii) Saarc audio visual exchange programme (SAVE) and (iv) Social Charter to set targets for eradication of poverty, population stabilisation and human resource development fall to its credit.

The South Asia Preferential Trading Agreement (SAPTA) was signed in the 7th summit at Dhaka in April 93, but it has not yet been operationalised. The proposal to establish South Asian Food Reserve and South Asian Development Fund have also met the same fate. Similarly declarations on enhancing political cooperation and promotion of mutual trust and understanding reiterated in each summit have registered limited success. Saarc despite these limitations and poor performance, however, remains a useful tool for smaller countries to promote understanding and cooperation at bilateral level.

Facing criticism that Saarc has failed to realise its ambitious objectives during the last 25 years, the Thimpu Summit decided not to indulge in rhetoric and set ambitious goals. The two major and modest projects agreed upon were US$300 million fund to reduce poverty in the region and also on trade and environmental protection.

The perceptions of the failure of Saarc to implement its charter have been aggravated by the political climate obtaining in the region. SAARC summits should act as a forum where member states discuss not only matters of regional importance but also the underlying causes of tension in bilateral relations.

To retain its credibility and relevance Saarc should eschew unrealistic economic and social goals; instead it should be effectively used as a medium to discuss issues of peace, security and development with international organisations and agencies to promote interests of the member countries.

At the Thimpu Summit, the leaders pledged that they will unitedly work to realise the aspirations of the founding fathers t as set out in the first Summit.

The fundamental weakness that Saarc suffers from is trust deficit among the members states. The political differences had deep negative impact on the political will to realise the economic cooperation and integration. Besides political differences and conflict, economic factors have also played an unhelpful role. The member states except India have still not reached the take-off stage to be able to pursue the programme of economic integration and collaboration.

The establishment of Saarc Development Fund, Food Bank, The Arbitration Council, and the Regional Standards Organisations are the right moves. Saarc should also seek free and preferential trading arrangements with other regional bodies notably EU and the Asean.

It should also remain fully focused on Saarc social charter to spread out its reach to the common man. The people of South Asia desire to have a peaceful, prosperous and secure future. The security can be obtained through sincere and sustained efforts to narrow the political differences. Saarc is the appropriate tool not only to build trust but also to solve disputes and create conducive climate for realisation of Saarc charter.

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