South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

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  • SAARC Energy Agreement: A step in the right direction

    SAARC Energy Agreement: A step in the right direction

    Signing of the SAARC agreement is merely the first step in the process of regional energy cooperation. To make this initiative work, governments in the region need to synchronise their efforts on a range of technical, institutional and political issues.

    January 05, 2015

    Priya Juneja asked: How could SAARC engage itself with a strife-torn Afghanistan?

    S.D. Muni replies: SAARC has no institutional mechanism to help Afghanistan directly in its internal strife, except activating and sincerely implementing the SAARC provisions on counter-terrorism. But this is not possible without Pakistan's active and honest cooperation. However, SAARC can help Afghanistan transform the conflict and eventually resolve it through economic softening, again, if Pakistan agrees to join the SAARC mechanism in connecting India with Afghanistan physically and facilitates trade and investment. This will help the economy of strife-torn south-eastern Afghanistan to grow and provide creative alternate opportunities to those who are affected by and prospering on conflict. This will also help Pakistan economy to become more dynamic. Greater sub-regional economic integration will provide win-win solutions to the individual and collective socio-economic and political challenges to all the three countries: India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Greater South Asian connectivity will also further boost economic opportunities for Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and India in Central Asia.

    Posted on May 2, 2014

    Amit Jain asked: Should India bargain with China for the SCO membership against the SAARC membership for the latter?

    Jagannath P. Panda replies: Not really. India shouldn’t bargain with China for the SCO membership against Beijing’s aspiration for the SAARC membership. Three things must be understood in this context. First, SCO and SAARC are two different regional bodies, based on different regional agenda and composition. Neither SCO is a parallel institution to SAARC nor are they complimentary in their mandate. SAARC is a body which mostly talks about South Asian issues that are non-political in nature; while the core mandate of SCO has been to address the key security, economic and political issues concerning China, Russia and the Central Asian Republics (CARs).

    Second, China is not a South Asian country. On the contrary, India has always been close to the Central Asian region, both in terms of historical and cultural parameters. The Central Asian countries do see India as a vital country and Russia too wants India to be a part of the SCO. Therefore, India’s SCO bid is a natural corollary of the Central Asian dynamics, and New Delhi must rely on these factors to prepare its case for the SCO membership.

    Third, SCO is a China dominated body; whereas in SAARC most of the member countries enjoy a more or less similar standing. India neither dominates the SAARC proceedings nor is the SAARC a political grouping that will entertain anybody’s dominance. Besides, though getting full SCO membership will help India to reach out to Central Asia more effectively, but India will not have the same position and influence as China enjoys within the SCO. On the other hand, China’s possible induction into the SAARC will allow Beijing to dominate its proceedings and pursue a stronger South Asia policy. Further, the Indian Ocean will get exposed to China like never before.

    Sumit asked: What could be the reasons for the unproductive functioning of SAARC while other regional associations like ASEAN and SCO have led to effective cooperation?

    Smruti S. Pattanaik replies: First, I don’t agree that the SAARC has been unproductive for a number of reasons. Any analysis of the SAARC should take into consideration the bitter partition that the Sub-continent witnessed and the accompanied mistrust and suspicion that made normal state-to-state relations a complicated affair. The relevance of the SAARC should be seen in the following manner: (a) It provides a platform for the regional countries to meet and discuss issues confronting the region. (b) The smaller countries of the region can play a visible role by setting regional agenda in spite of 'big India's' presence. (c) It has helped in expanding areas of cooperation that require collective regional effort, including certain non-traditional issues like terrorism, drug smuggling, etc. (e) Meeting of leaders on the sidelines of the SAARC summits have often helped in ironing out bilateral differences.

    The ASEAN countries did not have contested ideologies, such as the one based on two-nation theory. The countries comprising ASEAN came together to defend themselves from the communist threat. Such external threat was absent in the case of SAARC. Rather, India was considered as a threat by some member countries. Thus, SAARC and ASEAN cannot be compared. Similarly, SCO is relatively a new organisation established in 2001. I don’t think SCO has been effective in terms of forging a common policy on Afghanistan. There is contestation between China and Russia as the latter feels that China is expanding its influence over Central Asia which is its legitimate sphere of influence. Though the forum speaks of countering terrorism; it is yet to have any comprehensive policy to deal with the post-withdrawal situation in Afghanistan.

    Will Cooperative Security Work in South Asia?

    While the cooperative security approach has not succeeded in resolving conflicts in South Asia, it might work when it comes to resolving human security related issues.

    November 13, 2011

    Afghanistan: An idea anticipating peace

    In a positive movement, ISAF’s peace enforcement operation over time will have to shift to peacekeeping. Thinking through the idea of UN-SAARC hybrid peacekeeping mission now could help catalyse the peace process eventually.

    June 06, 2011

    'China in SAARC? To What Effect?': A Response to the Debate

    The responses to the arguments that I forwarded in my initial essay, ‘China in SAARC? To What Effect?’, have introduced interesting dimensions to this debate. While most of the respondents have agreed with my proposition that it is premature to think about China's entry into the South Asian regionalist project and that it would introduce complex challenges that would be difficult to manage, they disagree with some of the reasons that I have cited.

    May 2011

    The Time is Not Ripe for China's Entry

    Is democracy a criterion for the membership of SAARC? It is not. One should not forget that it was General Zia ur Rahman, president of Bangladesh, who had initiated regional cooperation as a part of his strategy to diversify Bangladesh's Indo-centric foreign policy after Sheikh Mujib's assassination. The grouping in the beginning had two monarchs from Nepal and Bhutan, two military dictators from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and one authoritarian ruler from the Maldives, apart from India and Sri Lanka which were democracies as member countries.

    May 2011

    Comments on 'China in SAARC: To What Effect?'

    ‘China in SAARC: To What Effect?’ is a detailed article and the author has elaborated the modest achievements of SAARC despite its 25 years of existence. One of the foremost problems in the regional grouping has been a restricted charter which desperately needs a revision.

    May 2011

    'China in SAARC? To What Effect?': A Response

    Sujit Dutta's article, ‘China in SAARC? To What Effect?’ is a thought-provoking essay. It raises an appropriate and timely debate on a theme that is of vital significance for the peace and prosperity of South Asia. Sujit has given a sound conceptual background on regionalism and has strongly argued against supporting China's membership in SAARC.

    A recognised China specialist like Sujit sees the writing on the wall in view of the proposal of some of India's neighbours to include China in SAARC.

    May 2011

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