The impending demise of SAARC and the way forward for South Asia

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and its member nations (Source: SAARC)

With the recent cancellation of the 19th Summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which was to be held in Islamabad, Pakistan this November, the prospects of advancing regional peace and cooperation across South Asia seems to have reached a stalemate. The 19th SAARC summit, which was already long overdue, was cancelled after four member states — India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan boycotted the summit citing “terrorism” and “imposed violence”. The boycott inferred to the September 18th terrorist attack in the long contentious state of Jammu and Kashmir in India in which 17 Indian soldiers were killed. India has publicly condemned and blamed Pakistan for the attacks.

The chronic cancerous contention between the two SAARC member states — India and Pakistan, has never ceased and has now reached its all time peak, leading many to believe that this might just be the final nail in the coffin for SAARC.

Once deemed a highly prospective venture for regional cooperation in the fast growing economies of South Asia, SAARC now seems as an utter failure after its repeated inability to bring together and solve bilateral differences between its two member states — India and Pakistan. The two South Asian giants have always been butting heads even long before the conception of SAARC in 1985. SAARC has always tried to pull these two member states together to galvanize unanimous consensus in regional planning pertaining specifically to peace, security, and economy in South Asia, which is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. However, the chronic cancerous contention between the two member states has never ceased and has now reached its all time peak, leading many to believe that this might just be the final nail in the coffin for SAARC.

The SAARC member states have grown wary of the incompetence of SAARC to move the development agendas forward, which the smaller economies like Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka are eagerly looking forward to and depending upon. Unlike SAARC, ASEAN — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is doing extremely well in promoting the interests and growth of the neighboring Southeast Asian countries, which has drawn comparisons underpinning the failure of SAARC as an instrument for regional development and thus, undermining its very existence. Further, new initiatives like the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Program, set up in 2001 between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, is making strides in promoting regional prosperity by improving cross-border connectivity, boosting trade among member countries, and strengthening regional economic cooperation.

The story of SAARC is that of failures, and though the word ‘failure’ incites anxiety, negativity, and sadness to many, it also provides quintessential lessons to what not to do and how to do things differently.

The story of SAARC is that of failures, and though the word ‘failure’ incites anxiety, negativity, and sadness to many, it also provides quintessential lessons to what not to do and how to do things differently. Amidst peaking tensions between its two member nations and the latest cancellation of the SAARC summit, hopes for building regional peace and consensus through SAARC seems grim. South Asia and its economy is undoubtedly growing in a fast pace, and it is now more important than ever for a much stronger regional initiative to guide the countries to a path of conflict resolution, peace, and development . In order to achieve better regional cooperation and stability and to leverage on the future economic dividends the region has to offer, South Asia definitely has to move on beyond the confines of SAARC and look for better prospects elsewhere.