SAARC- Time for India to LEAD

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KATHMANDU, NOV 27 (UNI):-  Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with the SAARC leaders, at the concluding session of the 18th SAARC Summit, in Kathmandu, Nepal on Thursday. UNI PHOTO-90U

KATHMANDU, NOV 27 (UNI):- Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with the SAARC leaders, at the concluding session of the 18th SAARC Summit, in Kathmandu, Nepal on Thursday. UNI PHOTO-90U

In search of more focused and strong presence, the current Indian government is trying to make its presence feel in the organization like this (SAARC). India is trying to emerge as a leader and lead the organization to attain new economic and strategic goals. It’s the high time for India to step up and create a balanced and a more stable regional organization that will enhance the national as well as international co-operation.   But, is this challenge easy, or not? 

We all resonate the news of SAARC Summit in print and electronic media highlighting the issue as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif “exchanged Pleasantries” during an informal retreat of SAARC Leaders in Dhulikel on the concluding day of the two-day summit. The two leaders exchanged pleasantries when they met for the first time after arriving here. Always a query comes in my mind, being a prudent Indian that what our leaders actually do in these summits and conventions. Are we not paying attention to the issues like rampant corruption, uncontrolled population, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, terrorism, communal violence, Naxalism and innumerable problem India is currently facing? Today the common mass generally criticizes that our leaders spend a huge sum of money in making International trips .Are they really wasting the money of tax payers by spending it on International matters? No, not at all and if anyone says so, probably doesn’t know about the functioning, contributions and role of such summit. Though the ladder of SAARC has reached the mathematical figure of 18 but we need to know what actually SAARC is? Established in 1985 in Bangladesh, the SAARC is a regional association of South Asian countries, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan joined as the group’s eighth member state in 2007. Their latest summit in Kathmandu, the 18th ever held, is under the theme “Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity.”Heads of state of 8 South Asian Nations are meeting in Nepal to chart a course for the region. It is an economic and geopolitical organization of 8 countries that are primarily located in south Asia. The idea of regional political and economic cooperation in south Asia was first raised by Zia-ur rahman and the first summit was held in Dhaka on 8 December 1985. The SAARC Policies aim to promote the welfare economics, collective self reliance among the countries of south Asia and to accelerate the socio- cultural development in the region. Tracing the history of formation of SAARC from the the idea of co-operation in South Asia was discussed in at least three conferences: the Asian Relations Conference held in New Delhi on April 1947; the Baguio Conference in the Philippines on May 1950; and the Colombo Powers Conference held in Sri Lanka in April 1954. However, after a series of diplomatic consultations between south Asian foreign ministers at the UN Headquarters in New York, it was agreed that Bangladesh would prepare the draft of a working paper for discussing among the foreign secretaries of south Asian countries. In 1983, the International conference held by Indian minister of External affairs P.V Narasimha Rao in New Delhi, the foreign ministers of the inner seven countries adopted the Declaration of SAARC (South Asian Association Regional Cooperation) and formally launched the Integrated Program of action initially in five agreed areas of cooperation namely Agriculture, Rural development, Telecommunications, and health and population activities.  The Provisions of SAARC Charter states that the State or Government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri-Lanka are desirous for promoting peace, stability, amity and progress in the region through strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter and Non-alignment, particularly respect for the principles of  sovereign equality, territorial integrity, national independence, non-use of force and non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and peaceful settlement of all disputes. The Principles of SAARC clearly lay down the areas of cooperation as agriculture and rural, biotechnology, culture, economics and trade, education, energy, environment, finance, funding mechanism, information communication and media, poverty alleviation, science and technology, social development and tourism. It also recognizes that increased cooperation, contacts and exchanges among the countries of the region will contribute to the promotion of friendship and understanding among their people. So far we have discussed the framework of SAARC, the article will not hold water if we failed to talk about the significance of 18th SAARC Summit in Indian politics.

Significance of 18th SAARC summit in Indian Politics:-

The 18th summit of SAARC has concluded in Kathmandu, the capital of federal democratic republic of Nepal during 26-27 November 2014. The theme of the summit was Deeper Integration for peace and prosperity, focused on enhancing connectivity between the members for easier-transit transport across the region. In the list of participating leaders, India was represented by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and in his speech he said that whenever we speak of SAARC, we usually hear two reactions – cynicism and scepticism. This, sadly, is in a region throbbing with the optimism of our youth. How India played a vital role in the SAARC Summit by raising the relevant and controversial issues between SAARC Nations. In the overall summit, there has the SAARC Leaders, particularly India, Afghanistan and Nepal. Also there were no important decisions on flow of investment and financial arrangements to push the economies towards “deeper regional integration” which was projected as the main theme of the summit. The SAARC’s activities have been sluggish and irritatingly slow. In its 30 years of existence, it failed to hold 11 annual summits for political reasons, both at the bilateral and internal levels. India has described the 18th summit as a success, at least for its umbrella agreement on power sharing. However any hard-headed assessment of the summit may not give much satisfaction to Indian policy makers, particularly for the failure to clinch the key connectivity proposals. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made “neighbor first” as the cornerstone of the foreign policy and the invitation to all SAARC leaders to attend his oath taking ceremony in may clearly sent a message that neighbors are more important than others.   The policy of neighborhood first was also adopted by President Pranab Mukherjee in parliament The India as a unit in SAARC has high expectations from the summit but unfortunately all hopes were shattered as the representative of India on the topic of terrorism, he only mentioned the anniversary of the November 26 Mumbai attack, but did not get into the disagreements India has with Pakistan over the subject. Neither the issue of acceptance of china as a member of SAARC Nation was resolved as India is not too happy to admit China as a SAARC member or even elevate its observer status in the regional organization and is also resisting pressure from its SAARC neighbors on China under the argument that SAARC has still to achieve internal cohesion and consolidation. India’s unexpressed fears are on two counts. As a full member, China will get a Veto in SAARC affairs as SAARC decisions are taken unanimously. China may therefore block projects that may offer strategic and economic advantage to India.  Some expectations from the upcoming summits are as follows:

  • The major weakness within SAARC has been trust deficit and many countries are still reeling on economic crisis.
  • India is facing problem of unemployment since long and the inter-regional trade opportunities between SAARC Nations is less than 4.5% which is much lower in comparison to ASEAN and MERCSOR.
  • Whenever we think of Mumbai Catastrophes (2005), Eastern Indian Storm (2010), Maharashtra droughts (2013), Uttarakhand Flash floods(2013) , Our nation gets in the doldrums. Though we have our own functioning apparatus and agencies to cope up with the problem of disaster but still we SAARC should establish its own disaster management corps for prompt action during natural disaster in any part of SAARC region.
  • We all know that the cultural and social integration among SAARC Nations exist on paper only.  The eastern regions of India lack cultural identity and any sort of cultural Integration with SAARC Nations exist in the speech of politicians and global leaders. The expectation from SAARC is that they should a lay foundation for ‘SAARC cultural foundation’ in each member country to strengthen regional unity. The foundation may play an important role in disseminating information about other country’s history, culture and political systems.
  • Last but not the least, the most crucial point is the relationship between India and Paksitan, both the countries has been tight-lipped at SAARC Summit and leader from both the sides have showed no optimism to improve relations. Why the relationship between India and Pakistan soured in such a drastic manner? Probably due to Kashmir issue, Pakistan sponsored terrorism flourishing in India, Militant activities at border or hate speech by chatty leaders. The smiles and handshakes at Modi’s inauguration notwithstanding, perhaps a more prescient symbol of the relationship was on display in Herat, where four heavily armed gunmen attacked India’s consulate on the eve of the inauguration. All these issues have direct and repercussions for south Asia’s security and well-being, and will require concerted and protracted negotiation and cooperation. In the current circumstances, that seems very unlikely. While traditional overtures between India and Pakistan may not help the relationship, discreet and adapt the diplomacy between NGOs and Technocrats on non-securitized issues like energy, humanitarian operations, climate change, and trade could establish patterns of cooperation that steer Indian and Pakistan towards a less antagonistic, more cooperative, strategic equilibrium.

India and SAARC: From Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Government to Narendra Modi’s

Tracing the history of the SAARC from the regime of Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee the position of Pakistan at the International level had been weakened by its incursion into India –dominated Kashmir in 1999 and the disruption of democratic process by the Pervez Musharraf, became even more precarious after 9/11 as the Kashmir conflict came to be regarded as terrorist-precipitated conflict of global implication. In contrast, India’s economic achievement, as well as its internationally appreciated self-restraint during the 1999 Kargil- Conflict, contributed to improving its International status. During the conflict, USA President Clinton put pressure on Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif to withdraw the Pakistani regular forces and Islamic militants. Clinton also visited India (But not Pakistan) in March 2000 as the first American president to do so since 1978. After 9/11 India made naval yards available to USA Yard ships operating in the Arabian Sea against Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Indian policy makers also shared a deep concern about Chinas military buildup with the Bush administration. Although, China, adopted a relatively conciliatory posture towards India, by not challenging the status quo on the borders. The USA and India announced the so called next steps in strategic partnership in January 2004 and officially agreed in march 2006 that the US would assist India for civilian nuclear energy programmers’(although it could contradict the NPT regime). Deriving a comparative analysis between the era of Vajpayee and NAMO, we can clearly establish that the mutual understanding and bilateral relations at Vajpayee’s time were far better. It was possible only due to Atal Bihari Vajpayee that an additional protocol which significantly updates our 1987 convention against terrorism. The independent commission on poverty alleviation has done sterling works in putting together a set of substantive recommendation for a regional approach to poverty alleviation. He also proposed establishment of a task force with the representatives from each countries to carry forward implementation work. Though at present situation the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is highly projected as a global leader having harmonious relations with almost all the SAARC nations, even the supreme power Barak Obama was there in India on the eve of republic day celebration which paves the path of good and healthy relations with USA. The difference between the strategy of Vajpayee and Modi can be explained on the cultural linkage. Modi always pave path for cultural linkage whereas Vajpayee used to develop relations through bilateral talks and schemes.

Security Relations and SAARC:-

I still remember the marvelous interview of Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the issue of SAARC nations, when the reporter of financial times asked him about the security relations with Pakistan, he replied on bold words that People who ask us when we will hold talks with Pakistan are perhaps not aware that over the last 55 years, every initiative for a dialogue with Pakistan has invariably come from India. During my own tenure in government over the last 4-1/2 years, I have made a conscious effort to resume and sustain a dialogue with Pakistan in the face of the most discouraging responses from that country and, I must confess, sometimes also in the face of some domestic opposition. No meaningful dialogue can be held with Pakistan until it abandons the use of terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy.” Vajpayee on Pakistan .It was at our initiative that India and Pakistan developed in 1998 a framework for a comprehensive dialogue on all issues. Again, I took the initiative to travel to Lahore in
February 1999. It is well known that the response we got was the military aggression in Kargil later that year. Yet again, we invited President Musharraf to Agra last year. Among the various area of cooperation, security aspect among SAARC nations is one of the vital area to be discussed.  Though the security aspect cover wide range of subjects like drug control, police Matters. Terrorism and cross border tension. With almost all the nation we have India hold peaceful relations in terms of security except Pakistan and now talking about India’s terms with Nepal as India’s rigid approach to Indo-Nepal bilateral relations is not entirely free from creating such apprehensions, indeed so much so that Prime Minister Koirala himself retracted his oft-repeated statements to review the entire gamut of Indo-Nepal relations during his visit to India, presumably with a view to creating a favorable impact on his visit. Thus, judging such psychological aspects, it can be assumed that any Indian initiative for such a review would alone set a positive tone for better relations in the future. There’s a trust deficit between the two countries. India should first build trust. They started using faceless apparatus to deal with Nepal.. While the issue of handling Nepal affairs through a political channel has now been settled, Modi’s challenge in Nepal may come from a hard-line Maoist faction, which objects to “Indian expansionism in Nepal”.”Firstly, we don’t believe that there will be a radical change in the relations between the two countries just because Modi is at the helms. It’s only been three months since he came to power and we are yet to see how he delivers “Secondly, Nepal is yet to complete the political process that began in 2006.The security relations among all the SAARC Nation are on the way of improvement as these nations are holding responsibility to the issue of security and integrity which ultimately affects all the nations.

Relevance of SAARC in Indian Politics:-

In the introductory part only we discussed whether the SAARC I actually proving to be a vital part in the overall development of nations but after discussing all the pros and cons of SAARC, we need to draw a conclusion as to why SAARC is of utmost importance to country like India? The answer to above question is quite diplomatic as India occupies 70% of the SAARC region, both geographically and remaining six Nations of the SAARC borders only with India and not with each other. As the biggest and most industrialized trading partner among the SAARC countries, India has to recognize that a special responsibility devolves on her and take a lead I making a regional cooperation. Almost in all the sectors like resource management, trade, commerce, energy, security, crime control in innumerable matter we need assistance if our nations and even India is also very much capable to assist other nations in the same matters. Renowned and eminent authorities have posed a question that what type of cooperation is it where India and Pakistan behave like enemies during the 2000’s there were a lot of border killings by the BSF due to the borders being very porous and thus motivating illegal immigrants and the used of these borders by illicit traders from both the sides. The peak of these relations was right after the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971 but worsened later on and easing of visa regime to provide 5 year multiple entry visa to minor below 13 and elderly above 65, proposal of special economic zone in Bangladesh, Provide an additional 100 MW power from Tripura, Increase the frequency of Maitree Express and start buses between Dhaka and Guwahati and Shillong are still pending. The illicit trade of trafficking between Nepal and India is rampant and both the countries are not at all interested in curbing the menace of human trafficking. Problems persist everywhere but the ray of hope is always there, though innumerable attempts were made to pave the path of development but, India has more to gain than lose from building a constellation of stars. Modi’s call is not a flight of fancy but an opportunity for us to ensure that even that sky is not the limit for SAARC.

Jinendra Parakh
III Year, Hidaytullah National Law University, Raipur
(The author is the Chief Political Correspondent in online e Journal THE ANALYSIS- http://theanalysis.org/ )