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Band of brothers The club needs changes

  • Areeba Arif
  • May, 2019
  • 236
  • Opinion


The Diplomat: ‘Rather than dealing with Islamabad, New Delhi appears to be abandoning the fold in favour of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation’ (thediplomat.com/2017/04/is-saarc-doomed/)

Islamabad, Pakistan

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is made up of eight member states, which include Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan.

As a regional grouping, it has been in existence for almost 30 years (with Afghanistan joining in 2007). Its aim is to help the regional integration but, in this connection, it has hardly been successful so far. The organisation’s future hangs between its promise and reality. In order to energise the organisation, an inclusive effort by all the member states would be needed and more so, in case of the bigger states.

Pakistan carries the potential and remains ready to play a constructive role in the region. In order to make SAARC vibrant, a qualitative change is needed among its members to improve the form and content of the bilateral relations among member states to overcome longstanding political issues.


The secretariat is situated in Katmandu, Nepal. Its aims include accelerating economic growth, social progress and socio-cultural evolution among its members and protection of regional space and stability. The group-fold’s consolidated economy is the third biggest in terms of the gross domestic product (GDP) after China and America and fifth in terms of ostensible GDP. The fold’s nations nearly hold three percent of the world’s territory and around 1.7 billion of aggregate population.

This region accounts for only 6.6 percent of the GDP in terms of Purchasing Power Parity. Up to 40 percent of the world’s poor population surviving on less than $1.25 per day is living in the region. The fundamental aim behind the creation was to set up a strong economic and regional bloc, similar to the European Union, and to strengthen friendly ties among the member states. The move was first initiated by former Bangladeshi President Ziaur Rehman, and taken forward by other leaders and later on endorsed by other states as well.

Afghanistan was the last to join in 2007. The organisation aims to provide a platform to the people of South Asia to collaborate and work together to boost the economic and social environment of the region.


In 32 years of the organisation’s existence, concrete results achieved for the advancement and well-being of the people of the region have been quite modest. The region remains the least connected, under-developed and is unable to cash in on its geostrategic and geo-economic potential due to structural and functional issues that are causing inertia in the organisation. During the past three decades, there has been little progress, in the organisation, in terms of intra-regional trade, which accounts for barely five percent as compared to 62 percent for the European Union and 55 percent for the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.

According to the World Bank WITS statistics, in 2016 South Asia’s share in world exports was 2.0 percent and 2.9 percent in world exports. Around 450 million among the world’s poorest people and 50 percent of the world’s illiterates live in these eight nations.

There are number of reasons for the SAARC’s uneven progress though. Most of them are associated with intra-regional political tensions, particularly between India and Pakistan. The chronic tension and prevailing distrust between India and Pakistan, the periodic problems in relations between India and her other neighbours for instance ─ Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, and cancellation of the 19th summit jeopardised the progress of the organisation.

As the senior research fellow and associate professor at the Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, Thomas Thornton, argues, in regional organisations, it is difficult for ‘countries to establish balanced relations when one has a significant advantage in power over the other states’. In case of the SAARC, India is the most powerful country in terms of economic development, military power and in terms of international influence. It is trying to use the organisation for its hegemonic purposes.

Like increased dependency of smaller states on India, for example, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Bhutan are strongly dependent on India for their economic development. Because of its hegemonic designs, India is engaged in the regional conflicts. India is also working on a policy of isolating Pakistan internationally. In o...

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