SAARC: Keeping it in limbo or restructuring for better functioning?

Published on Nov 27 2014 // Featured, Nepal News, Slideshow

18th SAARCBy Mahendra Subedi

Kathmandu: The two-day 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit concluded on Thursday by adopting 36-point Kathmandu Declaration, offering formal message in the issues like terrorism, climate change, food insecurity, poverty, labor migration, energy and some other key agendas of the South Asian peoples.

Besides sitting for formal deliberations and agreements, the heads of state and government of SAARC member countries attended a banquet organized by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and a retreat in Dwarika’s Resort in Dhulikhel as well the leaders attended a banquet reception organized by President Dr Ram Baran Yadav in Kathmandu after the closing session of the SAARC Summit, the top leaders also joined.

All these informal meetings proved to be the platforms to share the common agendas of the South Asia among the leaders and know each other’s problems genuinely.

But, many have blamed that the SAARC Summit is nothing more than a ‘Grand Holiday’ for the South Asian leaders. Truly, there is no convincing answer to those who differ to this accusation as this Summit too failed to make any tangible progress like before in its 30-year-old history.

Experts and analysts argue that this SAARC Summit made just two achievements. The first is handshake between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif mediated by Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala.

The second is signing of the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation (Electricity) by the foreign affairs ministers of the SAARC member countries which the leaders directed the concerned SAARC bodies and mechanisms to identify regional and sub-regional projects in the area of power generation, transmission and power trade, including hydropower, natural gas, solar, wind and bio-fuel, and implement them with high priority with a view to meeting the increasing demand for power in the region.

The formal outcomes of 18th SAARC Summit to have made joint declaration to work for energy development cooperation which was though conceived even before the establishment of this regional organization back in 1985.

“The useful byproducts of SAARC diplomacy is though as last moment breakthrough to shake hand between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with smiling gesture and poster of Modi particularly which would pave a way to continue dialogue between the arch rivals,” foreign affairs expert Dr Khadag KC said.

Dr KC told that the last achievement of the SAARC is to create positive atmosphere between India and Pakistan, availing Kathmandu as a platform, signed 10 points cooperation agreements between Nepal and India.

He was of the argument that the Summit provided an opportunity to renew relationship among the member states, which is indeed great endeavor to deepen integration among the member states.

But, the two ‘achievements’ in the entire summit cannot justify the relevance of the regional forum and it should be looked in a broader framework. Rather, the forum should deliver something for the better living of the world’s nearly 20 percent population. Otherwise, the SAARC remains rudderless as always.

In his concluding remark, Nepal’s PM Sushil Koirala said time has come to move forward with strong resolve and conviction, with vision and determination. “Our experience is with us; our peoples are with us; and we have abundant resources. In a region of this abundance, there is no justification why the people of South Asia have to remain chained to dehumanizing poverty and backwardness,” Koirala said identifying the problems of the region. But, no solution is there thanks to SAARC Charter that does not allow to raise the issue of bilateral concerns and disputes.

“Our meetings in Kathmandu and discussions we had at the retreat have generated a momentum in enhancing mutual trust, and confidence, goodwill and understanding as well as the spirit of togetherness towards realizing common objectives,” Koirala remained hopeful to togetherness.

Important thing always we miss; and until China (and South Korea too) will not join the SAARC, SAARC will still remain the handicap, progress and achievements are just an agenda and slogan, slogan and agendas are more than enough in Google and it does not work.

However, former Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai, in his Facebook wall, writes that just infrastructure development in the name of SAARC Summit and publicity of Nepal’s tourism was the positive point of the Summit.

He further adds that the 30-year-old regional organization becoming a hostage of Indo-Pak dispute and adopting the joint declarations in every one-two years without any remarkable achievements in the regional interest cannot be the matter of satisfaction. The former prime minister has termed the SAARC event just as an annual ritual.

Nepal’s Former Ambassador to UN Prof Dr Jayaraj Acharya in a recent book titled SAARC published by Nepal’s National News Agency (RSS), points out that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has not been as effective a regional organization as the EU or Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Although EU and ASEAN also took quite some time to arrive at the stage where they are today, their outlook from the very beginning was quite clear as it was based on their urgent needs, Unlike, SAARC, they had clearly defined their practical steps and areas to move on.

On the book Prof Acharya has proposed three options for SAARC. The first option is to make it really an effective organization by establishing a mechanism to settle the thorny bilateral issues that have been precluded by the charter itself.

Secondly, if there are no prospects of SAARC becoming a meaningful organization owing to bilateral relations of certain members, we may consider restructuring the organization by jettisoning them and adding more agreeable ones. The organization cannot be held hostage to a chronic animosity of a member with another one, nor can it be more productive just by adding another one. If things don’t work for certain countries, they may withdraw their membership of an organization as Indonesia did from the UN in 1965 and re-joined it a year after.

The third option for SAARC may be just to leave it in limbo as it has been so far. But, that is hardly any option; it is just a compulsion of inaction. In such a situation, SAARC summits don’t have to be held every year, or even every two years. They can be held only once in five years of even in greater intervals as and when necessary.

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