From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much.
Mains level : Paper 2- Need to revive the SAARC to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak
SAARC has become the ‘virtual’ platform through which leaders of the eight countries of our troubled region agreed to work together to combat unarguably the greatest immediate threat to the people: the COVID-19 health pandemic.
Success depends on India
- The success of the Modi-SAARC initiative will largely depend on India—the dominant power of the region, in every sense.
- Pakistan’s position may become marginal: Once New Delhi demonstrates that it has the capacity, the political willingness to institutionalise and to lead a mutually beneficial cooperative regime in the region, Pakistan’s “churlish” behaviour will become marginal to SAARC.
- Various international relations theorists view this as a function of “hegemonic stability”.
- Much needs to be done: Much more will need to be done by New Delhi to establish that the video conference was not a mere event, but the assertive expression of its new willingness to stabilise the region through cooperative mechanisms, for our common future.
- Rare opportunity: This is a moment thus of a rare opportunity for India to establish its firm imprimatur over the region, and to secure an abiding partnership for our shared destiny.
The genesis of SAARC
- SAARC was born at a moment of hope in the 1980s.
- An initiative by Zia Ur Rehman: The idea was initiated by one of the most inscrutable leaders of the region, General Zia Ur Rehman of Bangladesh, who, met many of the other leaders personally and dispatched special envoys to the capitals of the countries of the region.
- Dhaka’s persistence resulted in the first summit of the seven leaders of the region in 1985.
- Afghanistan joined in 2007.
- Not lived up to expectation: In the nearly 35 years of its existence, even its champions will concede however that SAARC has, to put it euphemistically, not lived up to the promise of its founder.
How the SAARC has performed?
- The dismal performance in the trade: South Asia is the world’s least integrated region; less than 5% of the trade of SAARC countries is within. A South Asian Free Trade Zone agreed on, in 2006, remains, in reality, a chimera.
- Moribund state: The last SAARC summit, scheduled to be held in Islamabad in November 2016, was postponed after the terrorist attacks in Uri; none has been held since then, and until Mr. Modi’s initiative, no major meeting had been planned.
- Marginal in our collective consciousness: A quick look at some of the questions posed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on SAARC, in the last years, suggest that Indian MPs seek answers on why India is still a member of SAARC and on the strength of other organisations such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) that India is engaged with.
- Thus SAARC had become almost marginal to our collective consciousness.
The fadeout and revival of SAARC
- India-Pakistan tension: Clearly, most of the smaller states and external players believe that the India-Pakistan conflict has undermined SAARC.
- How Pakistan derails the initiatives? Bilateral issues cannot be discussed in SAARC but since the organisation relies on the principle of unanimity for all major decisions, Pakistan has often undermined even the most laudable initiative lest it gives India an advantage.
- Relative gains by India are more important for Pakistan than the absolute gains it secures for itself.
- Pakistan’s use of terror: For India, Pakistan’s use of terror as an instrument of foreign policy has made normal business impossible.
- Need of the revival to deal with the COVID-19: There is no doubt that the impact of COVID-19 will be unprecedented, in terms of those it targets and the way we live. It is too early to judge the consequences , but it will take years for the world to return to the old and familiar.
- Strategies to cope with this new insidious, scheming and diabolic strain of the coronavirus have to be dynamic and ad hoc.
- Two principles to deal with the epidemic: Containment and the possible prevention of community transmission are the only two principles that are firmly tested.
- If community transmission occurs and cannot be contained, the consequences will be calamitous.
- Time to act together: This is indeed a time for SAARC and the experts of the region to think and act together and India can lead this effort.
It is evident that Mr Modi is an out-of-the-box lateral thinker, especially on foreign policy. More importantly, the tragedy of COVID-19 may provide an opportunity for India to demonstrate its compassionate face to secure a region at peace with itself. India cannot afford to not to harvest this opportunity, after having sowed the seeds of a New South Asia.