From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : SAARC
Mains level : Revival of SAARC
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah has said that his country was ready to host the 19th SAARC Summit and invited India to join it virtually if it is not willing to visit Islamabad.
- The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia.
- Members: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
- It was established in Dhaka on 8 December 1985. Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
- The organization promotes the development of economic and regional integration.
- It maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.
Formation of SAARC
- After the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the security situation in South Asia rapidly deteriorated.
- In response, the foreign ministers of the initial seven members met in Colombo in 1981.
- At the meeting, Bangladesh proposed forming a regional association that would meet to discuss matters such as security and trade.
- While most of the countries present were in favour of the proposal, India and Pakistan were skeptical.
- Eventually, both countries relented and in 1983 in Dhaka, joined the other five nations in signing the Declaration.
Economic significance of SAARC
- The SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 4.21% (US$3.67 trillion) of the global economy, as of 2019.
- It launched the South Asian Free Trade Area in 2006.
- Forum for discussions: It has provided a platform for representatives from member countries to meet and discuss important issues, something that may have been challenging through bilateral discussions.
- Diplomatic tool: India and Pakistan for example would struggle to publicly justify a meeting when tensions between the two are particularly high, but both countries often come together under the banner of SAARC.
- Crisis management: The bloc has also made some headway in signing agreements related to climate change, food security and combating the Covid-19 crisis.
- Technology: It has been another avenue of cooperation marked by the launch of South Asia Satellite by India.
Limitations to SAARC
- Small scale: Despite its lofty ambitions, SAARC has not become a regional association in the mould of the European Union or the African Union.
- Internal divisions: Its member states are plagued by internal divisions, most notably the conflict between India and Pakistan.
- Trade disputes: This in turn has hampered its ability to form comprehensive trade agreements or to meaningfully collaborate on areas such as security, energy and infrastructure.
- Terrorism: The last SAARC summit to be held in Pakistan has been cancelled several times due to many nations pulling out of the summit citing fears of regional insecurity.
Why must India rethink on SAARC?
- Extended diplomacy: India continued to attend Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meetings along with their Pakistani counterparts.
- Pandemic mitigation: Reviving SAARC is crucial to countering the common challenges brought about by the pandemic.
- Economic cooperation: Apart from the overall GDP slowdown, global job cuts has led to fall in revenue for migrant labour and expatriates from South Asian countries.
- Countering China: While dealing with China, a unified South Asian platform is a crucial countermeasure for India.