What is the future of ‘SAARC’?
A.S.M Riad Arif, SARRC Silver Jubilee Scholar, South Asian University, New Delhi, India : South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was created as one of the effective platforms, aiming at building better relations on polities and social and cultural issues within the nations of South Asia. But since 1985, SAARC could not prove itself as a strong regional organization though it is one of the largest regional organizations of the world. So it’s high time to think about the future of this organization.
Except Afghanistan, geography has made the seven countries of SAARC close neighbors, history has given shared past and the culture is almost similar. They were under the colonial power for a long period and that ruined their economy. South Asia is not only a geographical identity. Now many of the scholars argue about ‘South Asian Nationalism’. SAARC could be an ideal organization to promote this ‘South Asianism’ among the people of this region. South Asia is the home to 1.891 billion people which accounts for near 25% of the world population. And its nominal GDP is $ 3.12 trillion, probably this one of the poorest regions of the world too. And so it should work together for economic and financial development. The future will be shaped largely by the socio-economic development of the region.
One of the main focuses of SAARC was to promote economic and financial development among the counties. So they came into an agreement to remove trade barriers and promote trade among themselves in 1993. In 2004, they established the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA). But there is only a few successful implementations of it. The future of SAARC is largely depending on the relationship between its two giant states India and Pakistan. But the two states are always in fire. So it’s a big challenge to work together and come into any agreement. Indian is obviously the leading state of this region in terms of economy, but India is a barrier also. India is taking more advantage in trade. For instance, India can export 800 products in Bangladesh while Bangladesh can export only 80-130 in India.
Many regional organizations across the world are now economically improved. Why the SAARC can’t act like the EU or the ASEAN? The reason is probably the SAARC has not any political power. That’s is why it is not more than a bureaucratic multinational organization. The global economy is undergoing a shift in its center of gravity from the continents of Europe and North America to Asia. If the South Asian Country can work together and if it achieves economic integration under the umbrella of the SAARC, it could possibly emerge as the second largest economy in the world. Even China is ready to join in the SAARC and if so it will be one of the largest economic powers of the world. And to fulfill the target, a rapid implementation of free trade and investment envisaged is mandatory among the countries.
So the political leaders of the SAARC nations need to sit together and rethink about the organization seriously and take immediate steps to overcome the barriers.