Delving down deep into history, one can easily comprehend that alliances and unions demand equality and mutual respect to be functional. SAARC, unfortunately, has become an obsolete entity due to a farrago of States that are irreconcilable and incompatible in terms of geography, wealth and stature.
South Asian Association for regional cooperation also known as SAARC, is a regional socio-economic organization that links a huge chunk of land and population with one another. Talking about its potential, SAARC countries have the capacity to become the third-largest GDP of the globe as an organization, even bigger than the ASEAN which has currently the 6th largest GDP.
Instead of talking about its structure, the point to ponder is why SAARC remains dysfunctional and politicized in the world of complex interdependencies and alliances.
From a realist perspective, the answer is simple
In such a Darwinian world, states develop a high degree of insecurity regarding their neighbors, especially in the case of SAARC where arch-rivals were destined to become neighbors. The crisis was inevitable. SAARC stands as a clear manifestation of a maxim: you can change your friends but not your neighbors.
But the primary reason for its failure is that there exists a shark in the SAARC which is constantly eroding and eating away its benefits and advantages. Of the eight countries in SAARC, India has the largest population, GDP and area which establishes it as a natural hegemon of the region. This makes SAARC undemocratic due to the unequal representation of smaller States like Maldives, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, etc. This geographical curse creates dependence upon India which halts the free trade due to historical Indo-Pak rivalry which thwarts the organization to connect with Central Asian republics. It is due to this very rivalry that since 2016 no SAARC summit has happened till now.
Another point of divergence which makes SAARC ineffective is its clause which discourages states to discuss bilateral political issues at the SAARC summit. This clause ignores the reality that political integration comes before economic integration. Even the European Union, which is considered to be the most successful in terms of economic and political integration, worked on its political schisms in the post World War 2 era which then transformed the region into a unified economic zone with a single currency i.e. Euro.
Thus, the situation demands urgent remedial measures as the problem has capped the climax. It has not only cost the region billions of dollars due to less interdependence in terms of trade but has also kept the overall human development at a minimum level. First of all, SAARC should follow the democratic model of the European Union for policy formulation and then the bureaucratic model of ASEAN for policy implementation.
Then, the imbalance in SAARC should be keenly addressed to ensure equal representation of all states in matters of decision-making and strategic policies. Mechanism of qualified majority voting (QMV) can be introduced like in European Union to maintain the equitable presence of every state in voting.
What should be the way forward?
SAARC countries should decide by consensus to include the political and bilateral issues in their discussions along with socio-economic issues. This could also give impetus to the conflict resolution in the disputed area of Kashmir, which is a major impediment in the way of SAARC becoming one of the world’s most successful organizations in terms of economic and political clout.
For regional and economic integration the idea of separate South Asian currency is also important to consider. South Asian Rupee (SAR), on patterns of euro, can financially integrate the region into a collective whole which can open new doors of trade and financial inclusion for small and big States alike.
Last but not least an effective and vibrant regional judicial forum, like the European Court of Justice, can strengthen the dispute resolution mechanism among nations of the region. Interstate disputes and conflicts of Kashmir, Tamilnadu, etc can be resolved by these neutral and effective regional courts which can boost economic empowerment and development in the region as a whole.
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To conclude, to make SAARC an effective body, models of the European Union, ASEAN and other successful organisations can be implemented according to the regional and strategic environment of South Asia. But even a cursory glance over the above-mentioned details shows that the shark in the SAARC must be bridled before it eats all its neighbors in the region. It will not only be devastating for countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh etc but also for India itself which needs regional peace, stability and development for its own prosperity. It may be a herculean task but is by no means impossible.
The writer has served as a Political Advisor to the Senate of Pakistan. He is also the founder of POLITICA-think tank and a student of Masters in Political Science and international affairs at the University of Punjab. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.