From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : SAARC countries
Mains level : Paper 2- Relevance of SAARC
Despite the framework SAARC provides for cooperation amongst South Asian nations, it has remained sidelined and dormant since its 18th summit of 2014 in Kathmandu. No alternative capable of bringing together South Asian countries for mutually beneficial diplomacy has emerged.
Common challenges facing South Asia
- The region is beset with unsettled territorial disputes, as well as trans-border criminal and subversive activities and cross-border terrorism.
- The region also remains a theatre for ethnic, cultural, and religious tensions and rivalries besides a current rise in ultra-nationalism
- Nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan are at loggerheads.
- US military withdrawal from Afghanistan has fuelled fears of intensification of these trends.
Significance of SAARC
- As the largest regional cooperation organisation, SAARC’s importance in stabilising and effectively transforming the region is becoming increasingly self-evident.
- SAARC is needed as institutional scaffolding to allow for the diplomacy and coordination that is needed between member-states in order to adequately address the numerous threats and challenges the region faces.
- Though SAARC’s charter prohibits bilateral issues at formal forums, SAARC summits provide a unique, informal window — the retreat — for leaders to meet without aides and chart future courses of action.
- The coming together of leaders, even at the height of tensions, in a region laden with congenital suspicions, misunderstandings, and hostility is a significant strength of SAARC that cannot be overlooked.
- In March last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seized the Covid-19 crisis and utilised SAARC’s seal to convene a video conference of SAARC leaders.
- Such capacity to bring member-states together shows the potential power of SAARC.
What role SAARC can play in Afghanistan
- Commitment to get rid of terrorism: The third SAARC summit in 1987 adopted a Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism and updated it in 2004 with the signing of an additional protocol.
- These instruments demonstrate the collective commitment to rid the region of terror and promote regional peace, stability, and prosperity.
- Using the network of institutions: In 36 years of existence, SAARC has developed a dense network of institutions, linkages, and mechanisms.
- SAARC members are among the top troop-contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions.
- Joint peacekeeping force: With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a joint peacekeeping force from the SAARC region under the UN aegis could be explored to fill the power vacuum that would otherwise be filled by terrorist and extremist forces.
Consider the question “What role SAARC can play in stabilising the region after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan? Is SAARC still relevant for the region?”
Allowing SAARC to become dysfunctional and irrelevant greatly distorts our ability to address the realities and mounting challenges facing SAARC nations.
Back2Basics: About SAARC
- In 1985, at the height of the Cold War, leaders of South Asian nations — namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka — created a regional forum.
- The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established with the goal of contributing “to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems.”
- Afghanistan was admitted as a member in 2007.