Saarc in limbo


The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) has proved to be anything but that. Whilst the concept of a regional grouping of nations to their mutual benefit remains sound as it was in 1985 when Saarc was founded, it has never reached its full potential. It has a vast bureaucracy headquartered in Kathmandu, Nepal, and links across the globe, including into the EU. No matter the good intent, prosperity and peace in the subcontinent since the Saarc foundation have been hobbled by a range of regional conflicts. Hence, it is no surprise that this year as well the summit remains in limbo for the third year running due to India’s refusal to attend a meeting in Pakistan.

India is of the view that it was not possible to proceed with Saarc under present circumstances. Cross-border terrorism was cited as the reason but it is the underlying and deep-rooted conflict between India and Pakistan that lies at the heart of the increasing irrelevance of Saarc. The last summit was in Kathmandu in 2014, the following summit was cancelled and it now appears that the upcoming summit is dead in the water. There has to come a point, and this may be it, when the necessity for the continuation of Saarc has to be weighed against its cost and effectiveness. Yes, maybe the Kartarpur Corridor initiative may play a role in melting some hearts, but one shouldn’t really get his hopes high.

It is a bit ironic that all of the boycotting countries claim to be committed to Saarc. How can the countries that make up South Asia remain committed to regional peace and cooperation if they are not ready to meet to discuss any outstanding issues between each other? A regional body could only become effective if Pakistan and India were able to discuss and resolve their outstanding issues. Saarc would in fact be an appropriate forum to take up the Kashmir issue amongst others. Instead of using this opportunity to make Saarc a truly functional body, India has only confirmed that Saarc is an ineffective body which can only be used for symbolism. The boycott only makes it even more unlikely that Saarc can ever bear fruit. With Modi ensconced for the foreseeable future and Pakistan heading for a period of the politically neuter as the new government is struggling, perhaps it is time to draw a line under the Saarc project and stop throwing good money after bad.