Kathmandu,21 Nov 2014: The forum of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), earlier dubbed as the ‘Poor Countries’ Club’ is now waking up to re-define itself as a group of powerful and emerging economies.
As the times have changed and things evolved in the world, so has SAARC.
The significance of SAARC can be observed by the fact that it is now part of every major global decision either as a participant orÂ as an observer.
As of now China, America, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Myanmar, Mauritius, Iran along with the European Union are observers to the SAARC while applications from Russia and Turkey for observer status are under consideration.
The US National Security Council had endorsed the ‘Asia-2025’ strategy with an aim to sharpen its in South Asia.
The US, which retains its stature as the world’s only super power, has incorporated the South Asian region in its ‘Strategic Plan’ which speaks volumes about the relevance and the significance of SAARC in the global arena.
The inclusion of Afghanistan as a SAARC member country since 2007 has further aroused the interest of the major global players as the US, the UK and the countries of the like because it had been housing the NATO soldiers, and currently has a bulk of US forces to oversee the transition of the shift of power from NATO command to the Afghan army.
As for China, it understands the untapped market potential in the SAARC member countries. The market in South Asia currently occupies 30% of China’s total world trade volume. China’s South Asian market currently stands at $ 100 billion annually.
Along with China, Iran and Myanmar too have shown interest in becoming full-time members of SAARC. Iran and Myanmar’s eagerness is considered to be natural and not unusual whereas the China’s intentions are understood in the dubious light.
In regards to bringing in China to the forum of SAARC, a group of people argue that merger of China into SAARC would further empower the forum while the others believe that in the backdrop of existing lukewarm relationship between India and Pakistan China’s entry would further complicate simmering conflict.
Many suggest that the existing tension between India and Pakistan is the key cause of SAARC’s incompetence in deliberation.
Former Prime Minister Surya Bahdaur Thapa, expressed that the forum has not been able to pick up the pace owing to the sour relationship between these two nuclear armed neighbours.
Thapa was of the opinion that SAARC could be a potent force to reckon with provided it resolves the tension between India and Pakistan.
“Even the UN would find it easy in discussing the agendas with the whole of SAARC rather than dealing with individual countries,” he continue,” It would be far effective for SAARC to send any proposal to the UN collectively as a forum rather than individually.”
America acknowledges India and China as potential competitors given their aggressive economic growth. In this scenario, China’s engagement in SAARC, albeit as an observer, is a matter of concern to India and America.
Although China’s involvement in SAARC as its member would add to the importance of this regional forum, the process has not gained momentum.
The countries with the likes of the US, the UK and China will not get involved in SAARC for nothing for they have gauged India’s stature as a rapidly emerging economic power. Pakistan, a nuclear power, has also shown to be a country with much to offer. The countries such as Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives can also boast ample natural resources, to which former PM Dr Baburam Bhattari refers to it as a bearing robust potential in terms of the countries’ human and natural resources.
Minister for Foreign Affairs, MahendraÂ Bahadur Pandey saysÂ the upcoming 18th SAARC Summit will develop appropriate policy on the roles and responsibilities of the observer countries, and their involvement in the development of the SAARC.
The Forum has huge potential for economic development, but has its share of challenges.
With one-fifth of the total world population, SAARC region consists of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh which rank among the top ten countries with the highest population. India has the second largest population in the world, Pakistan sixth and Bangladesh eight.
SAARC is being viewed as a would-be biggest consumer market in the globe accentuated by the steady graduation of the SAARC countries from poverty line.
There’s no denying that SAARC lags far behind in terms of its dominance in the global context while the other organizations as ASEAN and the EU, the Arab League continue to achieve quantum leaps.
Unlike the other regional organizations, SAARC is yet to unleash its human as well its natural resources.
In view of this, SAARC should move ahead by expanding its areas of cooperation while making its presence more eloquent in the world stage.
Former Foreign Minister and the Nepali Congress Chief Foreign Affairs Division, Sujata Koirala commented that the SAARC could be the centre of attraction with earliest execution of its agendas, primarily the poverty alleviation agenda in a decade.
Some experts have speculated that SAARC would gain a distinct height during the leadership of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This speculation came forth when PM Modi invited all SAARC member countries’ Heads of State/Government to his oath taking ceremony the last May.
The assumption was made in the light of Modi’s announcement to launch a separate satellite of SAARC.
Harnessing the resources to an optimal extent will be the main test of time facing the forum. Making a peace and harmonious relationships among the member countries is also a grave challenge to overcome. If these issues are addressed timely, the forum can literally ‘Rise and Shine’.
Nischal Pandey, an expert on Foreign Affairs, said that the forum should take advantage by assigning more responsibilities to China and EU in view of their keen interest in SAARC.
In this upcoming 18th SAARC Summit, Nepal, as the host country, should exploit the opportunity at hand for creating an ambience favoring ratification of the important decisions.
SAARC poses to be an important focal point in the world politics provided the leaders of this region have an ‘imminent’ will-power and a far-sighted vision.
Source RSS (translated by Rosha Basnet)