See More on Facebook

Current affairs

SAARC turns 35 but has very little to show for its age

The regional bloc of seven South Asian countries and Afghanistan has largely been held hostage to the rivalry between India and Pakistan, say analysts.

Written by

Updated: December 9, 2019

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation might have turned 35 but its three-and-a-half decades of existence has largely failed to advance its own central tenet—regional cooperation.

As SAARC marked its 35th anniversary with a flurry of congratulatory messages from heads of government, expressing their commitment to regional cooperation, many analysts and diplomats wonder if these promises will ever translate into action. The regional association has failed to hold its 19th summit, ever since 2016 when India suddenly decided to pull out of a planned meeting in Islamabad, accusing Pakistan of failing to control cross-border terrorism.

“I don’t see any immediate progress in holding the summit due to the Indian government’s recent decision on Jammu and Kashmir,” said Madhu Raman Acharya, a former foreign secretary. “Nepal, as the current chair of SAARC, could take steps to reach out to both India and Pakistan. But Nepal has its own boundary dispute with India and it has not even been able to talk to the Indian leadership.”

The bloc of seven South Asian countries, and Afghanistan, has largely been held hostage to the India-Pakistan rivalry, say analysts and experts.

Ever since Narendra Modi’s rise in India in 2014, New Delhi has attempted to eschew SAARC, largely to circumvent Pakistan, in favour of another regional grouping—BIMSTEC (the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), which does not include Pakistan.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party even dropped SAARC from its election manifesto, while making a clear reference of BIMSTEC, earlier this year when India went to polls.

In a message issued on Saturday, on the eve of SAARC Charter Day, Modi once again focused on terrorism, which has always been India’s chief concern with Pakistan.

“Our efforts for greater collaboration have repeatedly been challenged with threats and acts of terrorism,” said Modi in his message. “Such an environment impedes our shared objective of realising the full potential of SAARC.”

It is critical that all countries in the region take effective steps to defeat the scourge of terrorism and the forces that support it, said Modi. “This will generate greater trust and confidence to build a stronger SAARC,” the Indian Prime Minister said in his message.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that Nepal, as the current chair, is firmly committed to the SAARC Charter, its principles and its objectives.

“As a founding member and current chair of SAARC, Nepal pledges to continue to constructively engage with fellow members to collectively realise the hope of the people of this region,” Oli said in a message.

Despite Oli’s commitments, Nepal too has failed to take any concrete steps to revive SAARC, said Acharya, the former foreign secretary.

“As SAARC chair, Nepal can convene a foreign secretary-level meeting or a meeting on eliminating terrorism,” he said. “But we haven’t taken any measures to advance the stalled process.”

A research paper published last year by the Observer Research Foundation, an Indian think tank, attributed SAARC’s failure to, apart from India-Pakistan rivalry, the asymmetry between India and other member countries in terms of geography, economy, military strength and influence in the global arena. This all makes smaller countries apprehensive, according to the paper.

“Second, SAARC does not have any arrangement for resolving disputes or mediating conflicts,” said the paper. “Disputes among member countries often hamper consensus building, thus slowing down the decision-making process.”

Given SAARC’s failures, added the paper, member countries have turned to bilateralism, which in turn has adversely affected the organisation. “Lastly, SAARC faces a shortage of resources and countries have been reluctant to increase their contributions.”

While the 19th summit remains in limbo, several accords, announcements, agreements and understandings signed and declared in the last 35 years remain unfulfilled or partially fulfilled.

Officials at the SAARC Secretariat said that though there is no serious dialogue ongoing among the member states regarding the 19th summit, meetings at the ministerial, technical and official levels are taking place on a regular basis.

But that’s not sufficient for the regional grouping to have any real effect, analysts say.

In September, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, a meeting of SAARC Council of Ministers took place in New York, but the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan chose to snub each other.

Many say SAARC is now moribund, given the lack of interest on the part of any member states to hold the summit.

“It is unprecedented in the history of SAARC that its summit has been stalled for five long years,” said Nishcal Nath Pandey, executive director of the Center for South Asian Studies, a think tank based in Kathmandu. “All member states should collectively share the blame for this as they have behaved irresponsibly towards their own regional organisation.”

Pandey questioned the rationale behind spending taxpayers’ money to fund the Secretariat and other SAARC activities, which have failed to yield any results.

“The observers also need to share the blame for maintaining their silence despite SAARC failing to take off,” Pandey told the Post. “Nepal as the chair must call an extraordinary meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers to decide the future course of this organisation.”


Enjoyed this story? Share it.

The Kathmandu Post
About the Author: The Kathmandu Post was Nepal’s first privately owned English broadsheet daily and is currently the country's leading English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia

Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.

By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Current affairs

Why Hong Kong residents turned out in record numbers to vote

Many say events of past 5 months galvanised their desire to exercise their democratic right. Amid mild autumn weather and under a clear blue sky in Lek Yuen, the oldest public housing estate in Hong Kong’s Sha Tin, a snaking queue formed outside the community hall shortly after dawn yesterday. It was the constituency’s polling station of the day, and hundreds were in the line before the opening time of 7.30am to vote for their district councillor, one of the lowest rungs of Hong Kong’s elected offices. The scene was repeated across the territory’s 18 districts, where nearly three million people showed up to vote in elections that are usually a quiet affair, with chosen officials confined to dealing with noise complaints and local infrastructure improvement projects. The officials, however, also represent 117 of the 1,200-strong Election Committee that chooses the city̵

By The Straits Times
November 25, 2019

Current affairs

Nearly 1,000 China nationals nabbed in Malaysia

They are believed to be online scam workers. Malaysian authorities have nabbed nearly 1,000 China nationals who were believed to be working in the country with an online scam syndicate, local media reported. The bust on Wednesday (Nov 20) by the Immigration Department in Cyberjaya was the biggest conducted this year, Bernama news agency said. On its Facebook, department said the raid was conducted at the syndicate’s headquarters in Cyberjaya. Immigration director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud said the syndicate was operating from a six-storey building in Cyberjaya, a high-technology zone located about an hour south of Kuala Lumpur. The raid was the end result of a month’s worth of surveillance, following complaints from the public. The office was well secured, with guards stationed at each floor and rooms only being accessible with access cards, The Star reported.

By The Straits Times
November 22, 2019

Current affairs

MH17 probe releases new phone calls linking suspects to top Russians

With contributions by AFP. A Dutch-led probe into the shooting-down of flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 released new intercepted phone calls on Thursday (Nov 14) between high-ranking Russian officials and suspects facing trial over the crash. Investigators said they were making a “new witness appeal” based on “recorded telephone calls between the leaders of the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist group) and high-ranking Russian officials.” “Ties between Russian officials and DPR leaders appear to have been much closer” than originally believed, Mr Andy Kraag, the head of Dutch police’s Criminal Investigations Division, said in a video statement. Investigators said in June that they were going to put three Rus

By Warren Fernandez
November 15, 2019

Current affairs

Five years later, prosecutorial probe kicks off into Sewol ferry sinking

For some families, it is too little, too late. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office on Monday launched a special investigation unit to probe allegations surrounding the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014. During a press briefing at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, the unit said it is “committed to making its probe so thorough that it will be the last one to be conducted into the Sewol sinking.” The unit will take on investigations conducted by a provisional state commission formed in January 2015 with a fact-finding mission on the Sewol case. This is the prosecution’s first organized effort concerning the disaster from over five years ago. On April 16, 2014, the 6,825-ton ferry with a passenger capacity of 921 sank off the coast of South Jeolla Province en route to Jeju Island, killing over 300 people, mostly children. The 18-member prosecution unit is headed by

By Zaffar Abbas
November 12, 2019

Current affairs

Ayodhya verdict is silent on why Muslims must prove exclusive possession of site

The Indian court has deprived Muslims of the disputed plot because they couldn’t show exclusive possession before 1857. On page 215 of the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid verdict, delivered by a five-judge bench on Saturday, the Supreme Court makes a crucial statement of logic: “It is true that in matters of faith and belief, the absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence.” But in its final findings, the court contradicted this same logic. The crux of the judgment that India has awaited since 1949 is that Muslims failed to show unimpeded possession of the disputed site in Ayodhya between 1528, when the mosque was supposedly built by Mughal emperor Babur, and 1857, when, after a clash between Muslims and Hindus, a railing was erected between the inner and outer courtyards at the disputed site. The inner courtyard is where the mosque demolished by Hindutva mobs in 1992 stood. The outer courtyard has se

By Asia News Network
November 12, 2019

Current affairs

Bangladesh War Crimes trial: 29 cases still pending with the top court

Many of the defendants are part of militant groups. Some 29 appeals filed by the convicted war criminals against their death sentences are still pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. The division has so far disposed of only eight such appeals, including the one filed by ATM Azharul Islam, in the last six years. Two appeals filed by former Jamaat-e-Islami ameer Ghulam Azam and former BNP minister Abdul Alim against their jail sentences have been declared “abated” by the apex court as they died while their appeals were pending with this court. An amendment to the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act- 1979 in February 2013, making a provision for disposing of appeals against the sentences in 60 days, raised the hope that the SC would quickly deliver the judgments. But the hope died down when the legal experts, including the then l

By Daily Star
November 1, 2019