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.