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  • IASbaba
  • March 18, 2020
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International Affairs

Topic: General Studies 3:

  • India and its neighbourhood relations
  • Policies and politics of developed and developing countries

Back to SAARC

Context: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s convened a video conference of leaders of the SAARC to collaborate on tackling COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The virtual summit is the first high-level SAARC meet since 2014, and comes after India’s pulling out of the 2016 summit following the Uri attack;

The virtual summit led to the setting up of a 

  • SAARC COVID-19 emergency fund — India will contribute $10-million
  • Rapid Response Team (of doctors, specialists, testing equipment and attendant infrastructure) to be put at the disposal of the SAARC, 

About South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

  • It was established on 8 December 1985.
  • Its member countries are—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan (2005)
  • The Headquarters and Secretariat of the Association are at Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 3.8% (2018) of the global economy

Significance of SAARC for India

  • Neighbourhood first: Primacy to the country’s immediate neighbours.
  • Geostrategic significance: Can counter China (OBOR initiative) through engaging our neighbours in development process and economic cooperation.
  • Regional stability: These regional organisations can help in creation of mutual trust  (India & Pakistan) and ensure that regional interest over ride bilateral disputes
  • Global leadership role: It offers India a platform to showcase its leadership in the region by taking up extra responsibilities.
  • Game changer for India’s Act East Policy: Linking of South Asian economies with South East Asian region will bring further economic integration and prosperity to India particularly in its under-developed Eastern region
  • Potential for India’s export: With closer economic integration of economies in the region, India’s domestic companies will get access to much bigger market thus boosting their revenues

Challenges of SAARC

  • Broad area of cooperation leads to diversion of energy and resources.
  • Low Intra-regional trade: South Asia is the world’s least integrated region; less than 5% of the trade of SAARC countries is within.
  • Inadequate Political Will: India’s inclination towards Big powers which leads to neglecting its relationship with its neighbours
  • Bilateral tensions, especially between India and Pakistan, spilling over into SAARC meetings.
  • Perception of India being a Big Brother vis-à-vis its neighbours whereby India enforces its own agenda on small neighbouring countries through these groupings
  • Slow implementation of the projects announced by India – declines India’s credibility to deliver on its promises thus pushing Nations to seek help from China or West.
  • Rising China in the region with its overarching Belt & Road initiative (Cheque book Diplomacy of China)

Impact of COVID-19 on SAARC

  • Major concern is of an escalation in the virus’s spread in the subcontinent. 
  • With close to 300 positive cases, South Asia has seen a much lower incidence globally, but given its much higher population density, it is clear that any outbreak will lead to far more casualties. 
  • Afghanistan and Pakistan have specific challenges as they share long borders with Iran, which has emerged, after China and Italy, as a major hub of the virus. 
  • Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka worry about the impact on tourism, which is a mainstay of their economies. 
  • Other concerns are about under-reporting, as fewer people are being tested in much of South Asia 
  • Inadequate public health service infrastructure to cope with rising cases, as all SAARC members are developing nations with sub-standard public health infrastructure.


  • India’s assertive expression of its new willingness to stabilise the region through cooperative mechanisms, without being distracted by short-sighted disingenuous ploys of a troubled Pakistan, is a welcome step for regional cooperation in tackling the pandemic
  • India cannot afford to not to harvest this opportunity, after having sowed the seeds of a New South Asia.

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