Fresh debate has arisen over the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC. The SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad last November was postponed due to India and some other countries deciding not to join. This further strained relations between India and Pakistan, two major countries in South Asia. Despite that, all the countries have participated in the several sub-committee meetings of SAARC. All member countries also took part in the recently held meeting of the program committees in Kathmandu. However, Pakistan didnâ€™t accept the invitation to the South Asian Speakers’ Summit held in India. Earlier, India similarly didnâ€™t attend the conference of Commonwealth countriesâ€™ speakers in Pakistan which raised eyebrows and was criticized by president of the conference.
Recently in a SAARC related program organized by Sri Lanka, participants emphasized the importance of keeping this regional cooperation effective and not allowing bilateral issues and complexities affect it.
Meanwhile, Adviser to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister on international crimes Waliur Rahman, addressing an international conference at the Delhi University, proposed amendment to the SAARC charter. He proposed to change the unanimity clause to majority decision-making. He accused Pakistan of stalling regional initiatives. On the other hand, in a seminar organized by Kolkata, Bangladesh-India Experts expressed that Bangladesh-Bhutan- India-Nepal alliance (BBIN) should replace SAARC. At the same time, at a meeting held in Nepal, the countryâ€™s former prime minister KP Oli Sharma blamed Indiaâ€™s attitude for the ineffectiveness of SAARC.
Complexity has already emerged over the selection of SAARC Secretary General. After the three-year term of the Nepal representative, Pakistan’s representative was supposed to take this position. India has blocked the process raising a technical objection. It was said that the SAARC Ministerial Committee has to approve this appointment, but due to the Islamabad summit not being held, the SAARC ministerial seminar also didnâ€™t take place. So Pakistanâ€™s representative canâ€™t be the new secretary general of SAARC, according to India.
Last Saturday (18 February), the two-day South Asian Speakers Summit organized by Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) started in Indore, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, India. Pakistanâ€™s absence was a key issue
in this conference. In the inaugural session IPU President Saber Hossain Chowdhury from Bangladesh stated “Let me refer to a disappointment that we don’t have Pakistan or someone from the parliament of Pakistan with us. Of course, it is not unusual for governments to have differences but we at the IPU believe that political dialogue is absolutely critical. Even if the governments don’t talk or when (they) stop talking, parliamentarians should continue to engage in dialogue process.”
It is quite apparent that India and Pakistan, the two biggest countries, are not sharing this perspective. After boycotting SAARC and dubbing it â€œineffectiveâ€ all the while trying to establish BIMSTEC or BBIN as its replacement, clearly reflects their position. All the attempts to display their military might by doing one after another cruise missile tests are just provoking conflict in the region. This arms race is not helping their economy or development rather just show for preeminence. The focal point of competition between them is how to increase the defense budget, how expensive or deadly their weapon stash is, and so on.
To rule out Pakistan from the decision making process, the idea of amending the SAARC Charter or reworking the framework is now raised. If that somehow is executed then not only Pakistan but also India will lose their influence. The four smaller countries Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Afghanistan can make decisions on their own, but that will hardly be realistic.
The failure of SAARC is, unlike other regional organizations, it was unable to strengthen economic cooperation and inter-regional trade among the member countries. The bright side is that every year rival
countries exchange their opinion via various committee meetings of this forum. If the forum is gone, that will increase arms competition which might give birth of a cold war. It was even predicted that this region is the most likely place to start a nuclear war, if tensions escalate quickly. As a result failing to hold the summit meeting in Islamabad, the South Asian speaker summit boycott or obstructing the regular procedure of selecting the Secretary General, does not seem very comforting for South Asiaâ€™s future.