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December 9, 2020

Ways to revive SAARC discussed

Islamabad

December 9, 2020

Islamabad : Dr Nischal Pandey, Director of the Kathmandu-based Centre for South Asian Studies, has said that reviving South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is the only option that all eight South Asian countries have as its members because they had already invested too much in the organisation to let it go dormant.

Dr Pandey was speaking at a webinar on ‘35 years of SAARC: the way forward’ organised by Institute of Regional Studies here Tuesday.

Dr Pandey said that SAARC needed to be viewed as more than an inter-governmental organisation and urged NGOs, women networks, and academics to engage more frequently in people-to-people contacts with SAARC member countries.

Abeya-Goonasekara, an academic and expert on geopolitics and foreign policy from Sri Lanka observed that geographical, political, and economic asymmetries among SAARC countries were important contributors to inhibiting its progress as an organisation. He further called for overcoming the trust deficit and blame-game among SAARC member countries so that the organisation could play its role in resolving the human security issues such as poverty, health, climate, and natural disasters.

Economist Dr. Foyasal Khan from Bangladesh presented the Association as a replicable model for South Asia in terms of economic integration.

He shared an optimistic World Bank study on the economies of South Asian countries and said that the glass of economic cooperation in South Asia was half full. He added that the only need was to prioritise human security over state security in the decision-making paradigms of South Asian countries.

Dr. Rabilal Dhakael, an academic from Bhutan, called for modifying the SAARC Charter to enable it to discuss all issues confronted by the South Asian countries including the contentious ones.

He also criticised the unanimity clause in the SAARC charter for decision-making.

In response, Dr Pandey remarked that unanimity was required to do away with the unanimity clause or any other reform of the SAARC Charter. He further stated that whenever there was political will, SAARC member countries have even bent SAARC rules to make changes happen. He specifically cited the example of the inclusion of Afghanistan in SAARC for which, he maintained, there was no provision in the SAARC Charter as it was silent on the inclusion of new members into the organisation.

Dr Nausheen Wasi, Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, was of the view that removing impediments to cooperation among SAARC countries was an over-researched subject. She called for more regular meetings of SAARC member countries at all levels. She also urged the academia in the member countries of SAARC to avoid self-censorship and come up with ideas for promoting cooperation among SAARC member countries notwithstanding their respective governments’ existing policy approaches towards regional cooperation in general and SAARC in particular. She called all SAARC countries to do some soul searching on the lack of trade and people-to-people contact among SAARC countries and share responsibility for overcoming lack of cooperation rather than getting into a blame game.