SAARC is dead, long live SAARC

By Birat Anupam–

birat bhaiWhen Greece was in debt crisis, the European Union (EU) initiated huge measures to help the country cope it. The EU took unprecedented steps; called marathon meetings in Brussels, the capital of EU, to discuss Islamic State terror in Paris. EU was in talks as hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees entered Europe, whereby it adopted a tangible resolution to manage this enormous refugee crisis in modern times.

Established in 1960, African Union also takes lead in issues surrounding the region like Ebola crisis, terrorist attacks in Mali, Nairobi and Tunisia and other humanitarian matters of the continent.

Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) exhibits collective concern in resolving regional matters like disputes and debates on waters of South China Sea, united preparedness on preventing natural calamities, among others.

Likewise, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Union of South American Nations (USAN) are pivotal players in their intra- and inter regional collective concerns.

In this rosy scenario of regionalism making difference, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has never been even close to what have been the cases of all other regional groupings around the world.

Established in 1985 with its headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal, SAARC is almost a token team of South Asia which assembles its nation heads annually in picnic-style meet-up, makes numerous commitments and materializes nothing.

Of late, with the arrival of Narendra Modi as the Indian Prime Minister, his widely preached policy of ‘neighborhood first’ painted a beautiful picture of SAARC’s strength as vibrant South Asian regional authority. Modi’s invitation to all heads of SAARC states and governments in his swearing-in ceremony had further consolidated the sentiment of united SAARC and united South Asia in its regional affairs.

Indian and Pakistani PM were not in mood to shake hands after Modi assumed his authority. Nepal had opportunity to host 18th SAARC summit and SAARC saw Indian and Pakistani PM shake hands and embrace each other. The summit signed SAARC framework agreement for energy cooperation and made some regional commitments.

However, SAARC stayed where it was once again as it did nothing regionally in Nepal earthquake and aftermath. Nor it took lead in organizing or co-organizing donors’ conference for Nepal’s reconstruction after quake ravaged regions of Nepal killing more than 9000 people and damaging/destroying properties worth billions of rupees.

Currently, Nepal is at the edge of extreme humanitarian crisis induced by India’s economic blockade. India has openly violated Nepal’s sovereign rights of a land-locked nation. India’s blockade in all cross-border trade points has crippled lives in both urban fringes and remote vicinities in Nepal. Gasoline supplies are halted. Fuels and emergency medicines are unable to reach hospitals. Still, India denies this visible blockade and blames Nepal’s internal political situation created by Terai movement for this disruption. India is angry over Nepal’s first democratically promulgated constitution for not being able to insert its terms in articles of Nepal’s charter.  Single or two autonomous province in plain Terai and provision of naturalized citizens to be executive chiefs of Nepal’s legislature, executive and judiciary were among India’s dictating demands which are not in practices in India itself.

At these critical circumstances, EU has drawn attention of India on Nepal’s crisis. UN has also repeatedly warned Indian side to be serious about Nepal’s humanitarian sensitivities just five month after the devastating earthquake.

Tragically, SAARC secretariat in Kathmandu is silent on this situation. SAARC says nothing on this tragic hour faced by Nepal. As Nepal is a current chair of the SAARC and the SAARC Secretary General also a Nepali national, it should have at least discussed about Nepal’s current difficult time. Though the SAARC charter doesn’t allow talking about the bilateral issues in the SAARC meetings, it can hold at least call on a meeting regarding the Nepal crisis.   Nepal is in talks with Bangladesh to import essential fuels. China has supplied fuel in grant and is reportedly ready enter in commercial fuel trde with Nepal. Various news media in almost all South Asian countries are carrying stories on Nepal’s conditions.

However, South Asian nation heads are neither serious on this tragedy nor are floating this issue in regional body, SAARC. This displays dead diplomacy of SAARC. If any regional entity does nothing on regional issues, it holds no credibility in terming itself as regional grouping.

SAARC merely exists due to various such concerns. First, SAARC has a meagre 5% intra-regional trade. Flying to Thailand from Kathmandu is cheaper than to Thimpu. Malaysia is nearer than Maldives from Nepal and some other countries.

Second, SAARC has no distinguished global recognition as given to EU, ASEAN, GCC, USAN and African Union. American President Obama addresses GCC, ASEAN and African Union summits but we have not seen such powerful executive head of any country addressing SAARC except low-profile observers from richer and powerful nations like US, China, Japan, among others.

Third, SAARC is Asia’s poorest part which has also been reflected on the poverty of polices in recognizing and resolving South Asian concerns, conflicts and crisis.

 There are reasons why regional unity is required. For the need of apex world body, we have United Nations (UN). But, for some collective goals and gains among nations having geographical proximity and cultural camaraderie, regional groupings are crucial. SAARC was founded on the same hopes. Nonetheless, SAARC has not proved to be worth calling a vibrant regional organization of South Asia. SAARC’s dead diplomacy concerning Indo-Pak border disputes, Bhutanese refugee resettlements, Afghanistan’s crisis, Sri Lankan situations Tamil crisis, and most recently, inaction with regards to India’s blockade in Nepal have made SAARC a dead entity of South Asia. Now is the time for SAARC to answer these concerns or avoid calling itself as South Asia’s apex regional body.

Author is freelance journalist based in Itahari,Sunsari.

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