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SAARC is not a done deal

Gyaneshwar Dayal

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established in 1985 with the aim of promoting economic and social development in the South Asian region. Its member countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. While SAARC has made some progress towards its goals, the organization has faced challenges in recent years. In this article, we will explore the future of SAARC and its potential to address the economic, social, and political challenges facing the South Asian region.

 lack of political will among members

One of the biggest challenges facing SAARC is the lack of political will among member countries. Over the past few years, SAARC summits have been cancelled due to political tensions between India and Pakistan. In addition, some member countries have accused others of not implementing SAARC agreements and of hindering the organization’s progress. To address this challenge, the summit needs to build trust and foster greater cooperation among member countries. This can be achieved by promoting people-to-people contact, enhancing trade and economic ties, and creating a more inclusive and democratic decision-making process.
Another major challenge facing SAARC is economic integration. While SAARC has a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), intra-regional trade remains low. According to the World Bank, intra-regional trade among SAARC countries accounts for only 5% of total trade. In comparison, intra-regional trade among ASEAN countries accounts for around 25% of total trade. To promote economic integration, SAARC needs to eliminate non-tariff barriers, harmonize standards, and improve infrastructure. In addition, the summit needs to promote investment and entrepreneurship to create jobs and enhance economic growth.

Need to promote social, and human development

Social and human development is also an important challenge for SAARC. The South Asian region has high levels of poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition. In addition, the region faces challenges related to gender inequality, religious and ethnic tensions, and environmental degradation. To address these challenges, SAARC needs to promote social and human development through education, health, and social welfare programs. In addition, the summit needs to promote cultural and social exchanges to foster greater understanding and cooperation among member countries.

India has a larger role

India, as the largest member and regional power, can play a significant role in reviving SAARC. India has the potential to promote regional integration and cooperation by actively engaging with other member countries, addressing political tensions, and promoting economic and social development in the region. India can also use its experience in entrepreneurship and technology to promote innovation and job creation in the region. Moreover, India can take a lead in addressing regional challenges such as climate change, energy security, and terrorism, which require collective efforts from all member countries. By taking these steps, India can lead the way in reviving the summit and help the organization realize its potential as a platform for regional cooperation and development.

The future of the summit depends on its ability to address the economic, social, and political challenges facing the South Asian region. SAARC needs to build trust and foster greater cooperation among member countries, promote economic integration, and enhance social and human development. SAARC also needs to adapt to changing geopolitical realities and regional dynamics. If SAARC can effectively address these challenges, it has the potential to become a more effective organization that can promote peace, prosperity, and development in the South Asian region.

The author is a  is a senior journalist, columnist, and documentary filmmaker.

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