SAARC - The Road Ahead
SAARC is beginning to resemble a typical public sector undertaking. Structural factors ensure that it does not generate the expected benefits; its owners (governments) cannot close it down because that would represent an unacceptable loss of face. So the only option left is to continue operations while minimising losses.Political will is necessary for closing the gap between ideas and implementation and making SAARC relevant for the people of this region. India’s reluctance in the past to support regional initiatives in South Asia and deal with its neighbours bilaterally was one such element.This has changed as was evident in the special meeting of the SAARC transport ministers last year to consider the multimodal regional transport study done by the ADB. A second negative factor, which too has been addressed was India’s insistence on reciprocity from its neighbours and its reluctance to accept greater responsibilities. Now India publicly accepts that it has an asymmetric position in the region and has to take on additional responsibilities just as Germany did in making the European Union successful and South Africa does in the Southern Africa Customs Union and Southern African Development Community. A third element remains to be addressed. This relates to issues concerning national security. The Indian security establishment is still operating under the perception that national security is best achieved by erecting the highest and strongest barriers at the border. This is completely wrong. In a region where borders have been porous for centuries and communities and markets straddle national borders, this strategy is doomed to failure. Real measures for improving security have to be taken deep behind borders and in a manner much less overt and coercive. India must take unilateral steps to liberalise its visa regime for South Asian visitors. For Pakistan, the category of tourist visas should be introduced and the police-reporting requirement should be scrapped. This would demonstrate India’s commitment to enhancing regional cooperation in South Asia. But while India has moved a few steps forward, most of our neighbours are lagging behind. Why should Pakistan, for example, continue to deny India most-favoured-nation status which puts it in violation of its commitment under the WTO? And even its recently enlarged positive list does not conform to the South Asian Free Trade Area requirements for free trade in the region. Bangladesh’s insistence on not allowing transit rights to Indians and not even permitting natural gas from Tripura to be piped across its territories is inexplicable since Dhaka can make good money from it. The claim that this decision can be taken only by an elected government is unconvincing. And finally, why don’t our neighbours do that much more to address India’s security concerns about terror that emanates from their territories?
Meanwhile it seems India is moving ahead in signing an FTA with ASEAN and her Look East policy.There is a lot of potential that SAARC holds for the deprived people of this region.All the countries need to see that the region moves ahead.
Labels: SAARC ASEAN