Monday, 10 October 2016
Does SAARC need Pakistan as a member?
The South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was set up on 8th December 1985 as a regional bloc for seven countries (Afghanistan joined later) “for the promotion of economic and social progress, cultural development within the South Asia region and also for friendship and cooperation with other developing countries”. The objectives of SAARC, as defined in its charter, are as follows:
i. Promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and improve their quality of life;
ii. Accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region by providing all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and realise their full potential;
iii. Promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia;
iv. Contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems;
v. Promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields;
vi. Strengthen co-operation with other developing countries;
vii. Strengthen co-operation among themselves in international forms on matters of common interest; and
viii. Cooperate with international and regional organisation with similar aims and purposes.
It is worth reading each of eight points given above in the context of the current strained relations between the member nations. Have we seen all the member nations moving in one direction for any of the objectives envisaged by the founding fathers? The answer to this would be resounding no if one looks at the role played by Pakistan where it has done everything in its power to undermine several of the other member nations.
On the other hand, the ASEAN Declaration states that the aims and purposes of the Association are:
(1) To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian nations, and
(2) To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries in the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.
In 1995, the ASEAN Heads of State and Government re-affirmed that “Cooperative peace and shared prosperity shall be the fundamental goals of ASEAN.
Over the last three decades the World has changed dramatically. Political and economic groupings were a matter of convenience to come together so that, jointly, the smaller nations could get a share of voice in the World. In the process, these nations would also be able to talk about preferred trading terms with one another which has not really been successful.
The question we need to ask is whether the objectives of SAARC are still valid, given the significant change in the economic performance of its member countries coupled with the political changes in the member states. Pakistan, a large nation from the perspective of its population, has serious political differences with its two immediate neighbours Afghanistan and India.
From the very minimalistic trade data available on http://www.saarcstat.org (which itself shows how irrelevant SAARC is in the mind of its member states) Pakistan’s last data seems to have been sent in 2012 while India is updated till 2014 and Sri Lanka has sent its data for 6 months of 2016. The trade data, available clearly shows how irrelevant intra SAARC trade is to most of its member nations. Most of the SAARC nations have become enamoured with big brother China and have therefore started opening up their doors to trade, investment and the right of passage for Chinese goods (as is evidenced from the Karakoram highway).
Pakistan has always preferred to identify itself with the Middle Eastern nations while retaining a position in SAARC. Economically, it does very little and politically, it is increasingly becoming a pariah nation and is possibly pulling back the other nations. The cancellation of the 2016 SAARC summit to be held in Pakistan is another indication of the growing irrelevance of the organisation amongst its member nations.
The unfortunate fact is that the situation in Pakistan is not likely to change – it is more likely to deteriorate further till the citizens go through a catharsis and demand a paradigm change in the manner in which their political and military masters have managed their nation and provided for them.
At the same time, the countries around the Bay of Bengal and the edge of the Indian Ocean near East and South of India include Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are proving to be a major market for products from the region. Politically and economically, all SAARC nations are wooing nations from ASEAN and therefore embracing new and more vibrant members with lesser political agendas will benefit SAARC nations.
The time has now come to examine the relevance of SAARC for India and to study whether we need invite more nations into SAARC or if it is believed that we do need a platform, why we should think of new economic groupings that would increase trade and commerce.
The author is the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of the best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye and The Buck Stops Here - Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur.
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