South Asian Association Of Regional Cooperation (SAARC):
In December 1985 the heads of states and governments of seven South Asian countries viz., Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka held a summit meeting at Dhaka. After due deliberations they unanimously decided to set up a secretariat and issued a declaration for the creation of SAARC. The declaration stated the objective of association as promotion of welfare of people, improvement in the quality of the life of people, acceleration of economic growth; promotion of collective self-reliance; promotion of mutual trust and understanding; promotion of collaboration in the Economic, Social, Cultural, Technical And Scientific fields; strengthening of cooperation with other developing countries and themselves besides cooperation with regional and international organisations with similar objectives. This cooperation amongst the members was to be based on respect for principles of Sovereignty, Equality, Territorial Integrity, Political Independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and mutual benefits.
Achievements and Future Prospects of SAARC:
Despite the slow progress of regional cooperation in South Asia the actual working of the SAARC since its establishment has raised high hopes of peace in this region bedevilled by conflicts of all kinds. Though the SAARC as such has not played any active role in resolving the differences among its members, yet its periodical meetings provide an opportunity for private consultation among the leaders of various member states. It is well-known that meetings of Dhaka provided an opportunity to the leaders of India and Pakistan to iron out their differences and greatly contributed to the reduction of tension between these two big states of South Asia. SAARC has not been able to play as effective a role as its supporters would expect it to play on account of historical bitterness and numerous current conflicts in this area, but it cannot be denied that its establishment did provide an instrument that might, over time and in small steps, build new confidence by solving a non-controversial, non-political problems. If that confidence can be built the chances for solving the region’s political problems, other than by military means, will be considerably improved.
The setting up of SAARC Secretariat at Kathmandu also contributed to the strengthening of SAARC. It services can very well be utilised to identify the projects which must be undertaken on priority basis for the good of the member countries. It can also work out plans for intra-industry specialisation, countertrade product sharing, joint production ventures, joint marketing companies, etc. In fact during the past few years several technical committees have been setup to explore possibilities of further cooperation in the various fields, viz., Agriculture, Science, Technology, Improvement of Infrastructure for exchange of Information and for training of Technical Manpower. These committees have come out with several concrete suggestions which are quite practicable and would work to the benefit of all the members of the SAARC.
Major Challenges of SAARC:
Though SAARC has made considerable progress since its establishment, still it is confronted with numerous challenges, which it must overcome if it has to survive and progress.
Firstly, the political climate prevailing in the region is not conducive to its successful working. An atmosphere of mutual hostility exists among the various countries of the region, viz., India and Pakistan. No doubt there are close social and economic links between the countries of the region but these links cannot thrive unless they resolve their political differences.
Secondly, that disparity in the regional resources of various member states hampers the growth of true cooperation among the members. India and Pakistan in comparison with other countries of the region are not only larger in size but also possess disproportionate natural resources.
Thirdly though all the countries of SAARC are underdeveloped, but their stage of development differs. Countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are more advanced than Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives. As a result the less developed countries are always apprehensive that in the present scheme of cooperation they are bound to be at a disadvantage. This handicap can be overcome by ensuring an equitable sharing of costs and benefits.
Fourthly, the lack of interdependence on the countries of the region in matters of trade also poses a serious challenge. The intra-regional trade constitutes only about 5% of the global trade of South Asian region.
Fifthly, the inadequacy of transport and communication facilities among the various members of SAARC also constitutes an impediment in the way of smooth working of SAARC.
Sixthly, the slow pace of cooperation among the members of SAARC has rendered the organisation ineffective. For example the decision regarding direct air links between capitals of SAARC countries was taken in the year 1985 but it has not been implemented so far. Likewise the progress in the field of economic cooperation has also been rather slow.
Seventhly, the bilateral wrangles among the member states have also adversely affected the working of SAARC. Though SAARC charter bars discussion of contentious bilateral issues and insist on unanimity of decisions yet bilateral differences have hampered its smooth working. For example in 1989 Sri Lanka refused to host the summit on account of presence of Indian peacekeeping forces in the country.
Finally, the SAARC suffers from certain institutional and procedural shortcomings. In the first instance it operates on the basis of unanimity rule, which implies that all its decision requires affirmative vote of all the head of state public government meeting in a summit. Secondly, the SAARC charter places a ban on raising of bilateral issues at the association’s summit and other related gatherings in fact bilateral discussions must be encouraged because it would help in fostering mutual goodwill and help in solving the interstate problems.