SAARC and Geopolitical Elements at Play

Spotlight By Preity Athwal

If South Asia is serious about regional integration and exploring economic prospects in the region, then the member-states must address the challenges they face.

In the post-Cold War era, regionalism and multilateral institutions have opened doors for possibilities and the importance of regional cooperation. Nations across the globe have realised that keeping the doors open is the way to stability and economic prosperity.

Regionalism and nationalism emerged as the talking points with the rise of American Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Union Jack’s exclusion from the blue skies of the European Union. National independence and foreign policy are the two elements that grabbed headlines in both UK and the United States. In Asia, however, it is a completely different ball game. Despite interdependence and close cultural convergence, the geopolitics context of the region comes into play.

The 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit is slated to be held in Pakistan in November 2016. Besides the 8 SAARC member-states such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, 9 observer-states are also going to attend - Australia, China, European Union, Japan, Iran, Mauritius, Myanmar, South Korea, and United States. A regional intergovernmental organisation and geopolitical union in South Asia, SAARC promotes development of economical and regional integration.

However, the South Asian Home Ministers Conference held in August 2016 in Islamabad proved that much remains to be desired. The recent arguments on geopolitical difference between India and Pakistan clearly showed the open discord between SAARC and its members. This is in complete contrast to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) gathering held in June 2016 that saw the inclusion of India and Pakistan in the group. Pakistan and China seem to be going strong bilaterally and multilaterally as evident by the ambitious China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and, of course, the SCO.

Realising the significance of such multilateral organisations, it seems steps are already being taken to address such issues. Recently, India announced a meeting of High Level Group of Eminent Experts to Strengthen the SAARC Anti-Terrorism Mechanism. For India, the need of the hour is to focus on its relations with other countries in the region and not get distracted by Pakistan.

If South Asia is serious about regional integration and exploring economic prospects in the region, then the member-states must address the challenges they face or simply let issues sabotage the framework and effectiveness of the institution, thereby missing the opportunity to work together for the socio-economic development of the region.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.

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