The South Asian Association for the Regional Cooperation has been established as a regional organization among the countries of South Asia for a long time now. It is as old as other regional organizations and instruments such as the NAFTA which has been excelling in terms of trade for the North American Region in the development and cooperation in their respective regions. Whereas the SAARC as a regional body has not been quite able to portray the role towards both cooperation and development in an eloquent and pragmatic manner. To date many high level meetings and discussions have been held among the SAARC nations, however, the ground level activities especially when it comes to collaboration in terms of regional security, representation and mutual economic advancement is very scarce.
With the cancellation of the 19th SAARC Summit that was to be held in Pakistan by December of 2016 there was a clear indication of the prevalence of the bilateral disputes and its effects all over the region. The denial by the major nations of South Asia led by India has steered a situation that was never posed before. In the history of the SAARC this is the first time that any summit has been cancelled after being postponed. This entails that the 19th summit has no prospect of being scheduled in Pakistan.
The three major factor that has been included here which determine the contemporary role of SAARC are the economic relations, the youth related issues in terms of entrepreneurship and the bilateral and multilateral relations among the member nations.
Firstly, while taking into consideration the economic competence and accomplishments of the association, it can be said that the economic activities performed by SAARC has appeared to become very limited regardless of the proximity and geopolitically significant situations of the South Asian nations. The fact that all of the nations are the members of the World Trade Organization also remains as a ground reality which has not been able to do much in this respect. It is generally perceived that security divides the nations and trade unites. However, this does not appear to be proving true for the SAARC countries. The major market for the rest of the nations is the Indian market because of which trade relations have been shepherded majorly at a bilateral level rather than a multilateral level which is a major hindering factor towards the overall economic boost of the region as a whole. Furthermore, considering the verity that the sole market for the products of Bhutan is only India has further impacted the economic relations in the region. Also, for countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka the import of goods from India is much higher than the export which is the major factor for the creation of a state of economic disequilibrium among the nations. Hence, the control of India over the economy of South Asia has many a times led towards a contentious situation among the member nations which highly determines the economy of South Asia.
Since its inception SAARC has succeeded in few things and it has not been able to develop the nations as a free trade area. Compared to 4% of intra SAARC trade, the intra block trade figures of other regions such for NAFTA is around 37%; for EU is approximately 63%; and for ASEAN it is 38%. This data strongly point towards a more vigorous need for economic collaboration and association among the SAARC countries which can definitely be led by India, one of the major emerging global economies today.
Secondly, youth employment and entrepreneurship related activities are one of the major issues that is extremely obligatory to be prioritized at this time. It is lucidly apparent at present concerning the scenario is such that due to lack of the adequate services and opportunities the youth population is discouraged which has led towards the massive brain drain of potential and budding young minds from the region which is again a major black lash. The ILO estimated unemployment rate among the SAARC nation is very high with Maldives at the highest followed by Afghanistan and subsequently other nations. The youth population as such continue to be adversely affected by poverty. Largest proportion of the world’s poorest youth are found in South Asia, which accounts for 4 out of 10 young people living on less than US$ 1 or US$ 2 per day. Another set of fact that challenges this verity is that according to UNFPA 3 of the 8 South Asian Nations viz. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are amongst the world’s ten countries with largest youth population. Therefore, youth empowerment and inclusion for SAARC in economy is necessary at present as it holds a lot of prospects for the region.
Thirdly, the SAARC nations have been involved in various conflicts explicitly over natural resources, immigrants, refugees and border disputes. The conflictual bilateral relationships among the nations especially India and Pakistan has influenced the social cooperation and collaboration among all the members as well. India being the most overriding among all the nations has had very coarse relations with Pakistan which has ultimately led towards boycotting of the 19th SAARC summit by India that was to be held in Pakistan.. Hence, as a geo political organization of the member nations that was established for the promotion of trade, resolve the disputes and address the issues that are of conjoint concern to all the members, SAARC as a regional organization has obviously failed to do so. Hence, India can play a superior role by prioritizing the SAARC concerns as an imperative aspect of its foreign policy that will enable and facilitate the organization to achieve greater strides and execute proficiently. Along with this, other nations should also be able to be accessible towards instituting of various bilateral as well as multilateral relationships among themselves and as an upshot SAARC can be so much more than whatever it is at present.
Thus, the conclusion of the discussion could be that economy, youth and politics are the three foremost expanses that the SAARC nations can recuperate through and discover a conjoint ground for collaboration among themselves. These thematic areas in today’s globalized context have proven to be very precarious for the development of several regions, and maintain immense ramifications for the SAARC region as well.
Aaditi Khanal is an intern at RCCS. She is pursuing her Masters in Conflict, Peace and Development Studies from DCPDS, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. At present, she is also affiliated with the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka as an exchange student.