On its 31st anniversary, is SAARC still relevant?

The SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad has been put in abeyance indefinitely following its boycott by member countries over the issue of cross-border terrorism.

Published: 08th December 2016 03:48 PM  |   Last Updated: 08th December 2016 09:30 PM   |  A+A-

SAARC2

SAARC | File Photo

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: On the day SAARC completed 31 years of its existence, India and Pakistan traded volleys of barbs pointing fingers at each other as the biggest impediment for the regional bloc.

The SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad has been put in abeyance indefinitely following boycott by member countries over the issue of cross-border terrorism and hence the anniversary celebrations on Thursday were a bit lukewarm.

One such celebration took place at the South Asian University (SAU) that is working towards creating a ‘South Asian’ identity from a rented hotel building located in the diplomatic enclave of India – Chanakyapuri.

Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar addressed the students and teachers; and remarked: “SAARC is going through teething problems. Hopefully the University has smoother run than SAARC.” Akbar also noted the “complex history” along with “emotionalism” of the region. And it is this complex history that made SAARC a non-starter since beginning.

The heads of Seven South Asian Countries of SAARC (Bangladeshi, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) signed the charter to establish the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on December 8th, 1985. And since then many a projects for trade, communication and transport have been delayed at the altar of the complex Indo-Pak relations.

The celebrations at the varsity did not see any representatives from Pakistan, which despite agreeing to set up of the institution is yet to chip in with its share of budgetary contribution towards the University. This is reflective of the greater malaise afflicting the regional block.

Issuing a statement on the SAARC Charter Day, Pakistan said on Thursday: “As its founding member, Pakistan stands steadfastly by the principles of the SAARC Charter. It was in manifestation of the same spirit that Pakistan had made all preparations for hosting the 19th SAARC Summit. However, the postponement of the Summit has deprived our people, once more, of the prospects of development, prosperity and regional cooperation.”

In Delhi in response to a question about when the SAARC Summit will take place, the Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said: “The ball is in Pakistan’s court…. The SAARC has not been successful as one country has been opposing regional connectivity.”

There are murmurs from other SAARC member countries that the 2016 Summit can take place if Pakistan willingly passes on the responsibility to the next member country to host the Summit.

The Indo-Pak hostility has also cast shadow on the SAARC summits in the past. The 1999 Kathmandu summit was postponed only to be held in 2002. Then in 2003, Pakistan indefinitely postponed the 12th SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad in January 2003, and this was finally held in 2004. The 13th summit to be held in Dhaka was also postponed, and was held later in November 2005.

The experts in the region have already written the obituary of the bloc that is said to have outlived its relevance and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) far away from the Indo-Pak rivalry has emerged as the most favoured grouping in the region.

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