SAARC: A toothless tiger?

The 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) is ongoing in Kathmandu, Nepal. The 4-day regional event which began on November 26 is being attended by leaders from eight member countries namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.


For someone who has been following Saarc meets over the years, this time too, the memo is very much equivalent – endorsement of amity and mutually beneficial and inclusive cooperation and prominence on effectual communications and public diplomacy. So, what’s new-fangled this time on platter, other than soothing up the same oratory once again?

Putting up more dexterously: Has the regional group, in truth, progressed to accomplish the earlier mentioned rationale in its near three-decade old voyage so far?

Here are a few details which may scrutinize the complete equation in a more abstemious way.

The notion of Saarc was primarily conceived in order to economically amalgamate the South Asian countries so that reciprocal co-operation of participants can fetch better trade opportunities for each one in the pack.

If we match up to the trade data of year 2011 between member countries of Saarc with one more regional group named Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement) that constitutes the US, Canada and Mexico, in the same year, things come out in standpoint much evidently. How?

The trade data for Saarc stands at $40.5 billion and for Nafta $1 trillion. Although Saarc represents economies which are comparably smaller to their counterparts in Nafta, things can’t be discounted even then. Mingling all the economies in Saarc into a solo nation produces a market third only to the US and China, in GDP (PPP) size. It verbalizes a lot in itself.

Despite staying in relevance, at least in political terms, for almost three decades; economic cooperation falls short to find roots in this part of the world. India’s role as big-brother in the region receives huge condemnation, at present atleast, by the member countries – providing an opening to the energy and mineral resources starving China.

The South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) is playing a noiseless bystander for a long time now and lacks effectual bearing. Countries of South Asia recuse themselves from trading using the same platform for the fear of their economies getting diluted in front of India.

Even after hosting seventeen summits, nothing tangible has come out that advocates implication of the group. Border and river issues, between member nations, continue to hold ground barefacedly still.

Utilizing the decipherable split in overall ideologies of the participatory nations, China seems to be knocking the door more compellingly now. If media reports are to be believed, China, despite not being entitled due to its different geographical location, is assertively demanding an “observer status” in Saarc, and several Nepalese and Pakistani factions are backing the demand as well.

Thus, it’s the time that Saarc members, especially Indian government takes notice of the degenerating ground situation and plan accordingly. Or else, steadily mounting dragon sway, in South Asia, will only bear out as calamitous to the long-term Indian interests.


Ashish Pandey

I am a business and finance journalist who is currently employed at Financial Express and previously at Zee News. My areas of interest include business and foreign policy. You can reach me on Twitter at @ashuvirgo1984 or @eFundsPlus.

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