From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : SAARC, USMCA, MERCOSUR, AfCFTA
Mains level : Paper 2- Revival of SAARC
The article examines the issues are making it difficult to function and suggests its revival.
Dysfunctional SAARC and its implications
- The year 2020 marked the sixth year since the leaders of the eight nations that make up SAARC were able to meet.
- India-Pakistan issues have impacted other meetings of SAARC as well.
- Inactive SAARC is making it easier for member countries, as well as international agencies, to deal with South Asia as a fragmented group.
- India’s refusal to allow Pakistan to host the SAARC summit is akin to giving Pakistan a ‘veto’ over the entire SAARC process.
- The events of 2020, particularly the novel coronavirus pandemic and China’s aggressions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) shone a new spotlight on this mechanism.
- This should make the government review its position and reverse that trend.
Reasons India should review its position on SAARC
1) India attend other forums with Pakistan
- India continued to attend Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meetings along with their Pakistani counterparts.
- While China’s incursions in Ladakh constituted the larger concern in the year, India did not decline to attend meetings with the Chinese leadership at the SCO, the Russia-India-China trilateral, the G-20 and others.
- No concerns over territorial claims stopped the government from engaging with Nepal either.
2) Pandemic caused challenges
- Reviving SAARC is crucial to countering the common challenges brought about by the pandemic.
- Studies have shown that South Asia’s experience of the pandemic has been unique from other regions of the world.
- This experience needs to be studied further in a comprehensive manner in order to counter future pandemics.
- Such an approach is also necessary for the distribution and further trials needed for vaccines, as well as developing cold storage chains for the vast market that South Asia represents.
3) Impact of the pandemic on economies of South Asia
- Apart from the overall GDP slowdown, global job cuts which will lead to an estimated 22% fall in revenue for migrant labour and expatriates from South Asian countries.
- World Bank have suggested that South Asian countries work as a collective to set standards for labour from the region, and also to promoting a more intra-regional, transnational approach towards tourism, citing successful examples including the ‘East Africa Single Joint Visa’ system.
- In the longer term, there will be a shift in priorities towards health security, food security, and job security, that will also benefit from an “all-of” South Asia approach.
- While it will be impossible for countries to cut themselves off from the global market entirely, regional initiatives will become the “Goldilocks option”.
4) Dealing with the China challenge
- In dealing with the challenge from China too, both at India’s borders and in its neighbourhood, a unified South Asian platform remains India’s most potent countermeasure.
- At the border, tensions with Pakistan and Nepal amplify the threat perception from China, while other SAARC members (minus Bhutan), all of whom are Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partners of China will be hard placed to help individually.
- Significantly, from 2005-14, China actually wanted to join SAARC.
- Despite the rebuff, China has continued to push its way into South Asia.
Seen through Beijing’s prism, India’s SAARC neighbourhood may be a means to contain India, with the People’s Liberation Army strategies against India over the LAC at present, or in conjunction with Pakistan or Nepal at other disputed fronts in the future. New Delhi must find its own prism with which to view its South Asian neighbourhood as it should be: a unit that has a common future, and as a force-multiplier for India’s ambitions on the global stage.