Kathmandu, Nov 22 2014: The South Asian region, which has a long and glorious history of oriental civilizations, has remained underdeveloped for a long time in global perspectives.
Whereas Europe conquered the world, United States of America rose to a superpower as did Lenin’s Soviet Union, Japan won the world in economy despite losing in the Second World War, and China followed them with a great leap forward under Chairman Mao Tse Tung and later with Deng Xiao Ping, the South Asian sub-continent remained backward despite its vast resources, both historical and natural.
The region straddles areas south of the mighty Himalayas, the Gangetic plains, areas coast lining the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, stretching from the Hindukush Himalayas to Sri Lankan island and from Pakistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east.
The region is also the cradle of Hindu and Buddhist civilizations and home to over 1.5 billion people, most of whom live in countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Whereas the outside world competed militarily or economically, this region remained dormant for most of the time due to a long colonial rule.
Even when India won independence and rivaled China or Pakistan militarily, it did not think much in economic point of view to meet the needs of its vast population or that of its poor neighbors.
It is not that India, the largest member country of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) did not achieve much after it got its independence in 1947 from almost a century-long British colonial rule as it rose to world’s tenth largest economy and also became a nuclear power, but whatever it achieved was not sufficient to uplift its people to have access to fruits of development. It has 29.5 percent people under the poverty line and lacks resources or has failed to exploit the existing resources for lack of technological knowledge and investment.Â It is mainly an agricultural country with 60 percent people dependent on agriculture and is on the path of industrialization, but its agriculture is based on conventional systems and could not raise the living standards of tens of millions of people. It faces brain drain and has been unable to draw desired amount of foreign investment, and therefore, it still reels under the vicious cycle of poverty. It has not been able to take benefit from its vast coastline.
Another South Asian power Pakistan too could not come out of the poverty despite its great military power built from its rivalry with India. It also lags behind in education, health and infrastructure.
Its main reason has been political instability after its separation from India, lack of peace in the border with India and terror spreading from northern neighbor, Afghanistan.
Bangladesh too has not been able to come out of instability despite having democratic governments due to strong rivalry between political parties, lack of resources, natural disasters and vast population as compared to its area.
Although Sri Lanka and Maldives both island nations have comparatively better situation, Sri Lanka also faced a bloody insurgency for over 25 years, paralyzing the development in most of its territory. Maldives though has little population and better literacy, it has fears of rising sea level from the recent climate change phenomenon.
Bhutan with its limited population and traditional lifestyle also lacks willpower to grow because of its mainly closed society, weak democracy and landlockedness, despite its resources.
Nepal lagged behind despite her natural resources and historical heritages because of political turmoil for most of the time since winning democracy in 1950 from the 104-year long Rana oligarchy. It lost democracy in 1960 and the subsequent Panchayat system could not gain much in the economic front. It won democracy in 1990 once again but was soon marred by political instability and the ten-year long Maoist insurgency paralyzing all development works. Soon a second people’s movement rose in April, 2006 and republicanism was established by abolishing traditional monarchy andÂ an all inclusive democratic government was formed, but it too could not do much because of political instability despite gaining an environment of peace in the aftermath of the Maoist ‘People’s War”.
Its failure to draft a republican and federal constitution even in six years due to political wrangling marred all development efforts of the country. Although it has made some progress in education, agriculture and health sector, it fails badly in infrastructure and in harnessing its vast potentials of electricity generation, considered second only to Brazil.
SAARC’s new member Afghanistan, which became playing field for America and soviet union in the past is the worst victim of political instability and terrorism coupled with its landlocked nature and still strugglesÂ to gain a little of peace for its development.
In this backdrop, these nations should strive for collective security and self-reliance through SAARC, which was established in 1985 with the vision of Bangladesh President Ziaur Rahman for a regional organization in the context of Nepalese King Birendra’s call for regional cooperation in utilizing water resources.
Although the regional grouping has not been successful in uplifting the living standards of the world’s one fourth of population as expected, it has no other option but to put its plans into action for better connectivity among SAARC member states, implementation of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), combating terrorism and infrastructure development including harnessing the vast potentials of power for the benefit of the entire region.
If these countries came together with additional enthusiasm to uplift their people, the region will not remain as backward as it is today.Â We should learn from the successful regional organizations like European Union and ASEAN, as we have vast untapped resources to be utilized for the greater benefit of the region.
By :Tirtha Bhattarai