SAARC is Moving Forward at Last
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SAARC is Moving Forward at Last
SAARC is Moving Forward at Last
A non-starter from the beginning
So far, the organisation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, shortly called as SAARC, has not registered any importance in the minds of international political and economic analysts. This was because SAARC was considered as a non-starter right from the beginning with two of its important constituents India and Pakistan always conflicting and accusing each other. India and Pakistan had fought six wars so far and are ready to fight the seventh war at any time. Besides, Pakistan trains the terrorists from its soil to attack India and USA.
Of late, importance of SAARC has grown
But of late, SAARC has gained some importance with focus on renewed economic cooperation among its member States. Recently the 17th SAARC summit was held in Maldives at the Addu City. India and Pakistan decided to review the Joint Commission which was defunct for six years. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered a preferential trade agreement with Pakistan. Pakistan in turn has offered Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India which will come in force from October next year. Till recently, Pakistan was refusing to offer MFN status to India. Till a few years back, Pakistan was refusing to talk anything with India unless the dispute over Kashmir was settled ‘in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions’. But today, Pakistan finds itself as a most backward country in the world and regarded as the epicentre of terrorism. It is isolated from all important activities in the world and even its close friends like China and USA look down at it with scant respect. It has lost all respect and credibility in the eyes of the international community. Other countries refuse to even send their sporting teams to Pakistan to play matches due to fear of attack from the Talibans and other terrorists (Talibans consider it as a sin against the Holy Koran to play games like football and cricket) . Pakistan wants to get out of this mess it created for itself. If it waits till the Kashmir dispute is solved, it has to wait for infinitely long time. Therefore it decided to break ice and move forward by offering MFN status to India even though this move met with stiff opposition from the Talibans. The Talibans have vowed to attack shops in Pakistan that sell Indian goods as they feel that buying Indian goods is a sin against the Holy Koran.
Indian Ocean ferry service
The SAARC summit decided on constructing a cargo ferry service connecting all the nations in the Indian Ocean with a coastline. The summit decided on communication links allowing greater movement of the people of the nations, allow more trade and investment among the nations and recommended for increased cultural exchanges. More than half of the population in the SAARC region are of Indian origin. Therefore there is a possibility of more cultural exchanges taking place albeit religious differences among the nations. The eight nations of SAARC also decided to jointly combat the ever growing sea piracy and also to strike common strategy with regard to climate changes. SAARC is over 25 years old, but it has started growing only now.
Unilateral Indian initiative
For the last 25 years, the eight nations were torn by political rivalry and there existed among them only hatred, suspicion and conflict. A situation developed when united action among them on any common issue was out of question. It is to the credit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that this ice has been broken and SAARC has set off to greater cooperation among the member nations in all aspects in future. India took non-reciprocal and unilateral action in important areas like reducing the sensitive list from tariffs from the high of 480 items to a mere 25. The initiatives have now found favour among the nations and the other nations have started reciprocating the gestures. Smaller nations of the group like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal will be immensely benefitted by India’s moves.
Terrorism emanating from Pakistan is a big problem
India is the big leader of SAARC by virtue of its geography and size of its market & economy. Other nations of SAARC have reconciled to this fact. Therefore any initiative that comes from India is viewed with respect and curiosity by the smaller nations of the region. But one cannot say that all is fine with SAARC even with the latest initiatives and bonhomie among its nations. Terrorism continues to be a problem between India and Pakistan. The perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage in 2008 roam free in Pakistan. This has caused a sore feeling among the Indian people. Opposition parties and particularly the principal opposition party BJP is exploiting this feeling to the tilt and accusing the government headed by the Congress Party of soft-pedalling with Pakistan to appease the minorities in India for vote bank politics. But the Pakistan government has no control over what is happening in Pakistan with regard to training of the terrorists against India and USA. The Pakistan army and the ISI are in charge of such activities and the civilian government cannot control these powerful organizations. Even the Pakistan Prime Minister and President are not safe in Pakistan.
Cordial personal relations and cricket diplomacy
At the personal level, the Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar has struck a rapport with the Indian external affairs minister S M Krishna. Similarly Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has established a cordial relations with his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani. The rapport was strengthened when Manmohan Singh invited Gilani to watch the crucial India-Pakistan semi-final match held at Mohali in Chandigarh in February-March during the World Cup Cricket. The cricket diplomacy was carried forward subsequently to strengthen the rapport established.
Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution thrown into dust bin
India’s relations with Sri Lanka are also fine. India refused to endorse demand from both outside and inside for prosecuting Sri Lankan President Rajapakshe for his ‘war crimes’ against the Tamil people when the Sri Lankan army decimated the terrorist organisation LTTE and killed its leader Prabakaran. Even though there is a vociferous demand from the Tamil Nadu politicians and people for prosecuting Rajapakshe, the government of India ignored the demands from Tamil Nadu and remained friendly with Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu Assembly even passed a resolution demanding action against Rajapakshe. But the government of India threw this resolution into the dust bin much to the chagrin of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. Sri Lankan President Rajapakshe was invited as the Chief Guest during the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi. He was also invited to watch India-Sri Lanka final match during the World Cup Cricket held in March in Mumbai.
Great potential for trade
There is a great potential for the trade to grow among the SAARC nations. At present trade among the SAARC nations is only 5% of the total trade the nations have with the rest of the world. This figure is high among the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) at 24% and among the APEC (Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation) nations at 70%. It is hoped that following Indian initiatives and unilateral announcements, the trade among the SAARC nations will rise in the coming years. Australia, Japan and China were also invited to the summit meeting held in Maldives as observers. India’s trade with SAARC members stands at $13 billion now. India has already ratified double taxation avoidance pacts with the SAARC nations.
China is India’s biggest enemy
There is a feeling that the member countries of SAARC are leaning towards China one after the other. Pakistan is almost a slave of China and dances to China’s tunes. Following Maoist upsurge and victory, Nepal also is gravitating towards China. Sri Lanka has established cordial relations with China and is inviting Chinese participation in development of its infrastructure. There is even a suspicion that China helped Sri Lankan military in decimating the terrorist organization LTTE. Bangladesh’s trade with China is now much more than with that of India notwithstanding its cordial relations. Therefore China is in a position to dictate terms and sway the opinion and actions of the SAARC member nations in its favour. China has established its presence for the first time in the Indian Ocean in Seycheles islands. But China and India are mutual enemies and are antagonistic with each other. There is a suspicion that China may attack India at any time. Already China attacked India in 1962 and is holding 32000 sq km of Indian Territory. China is also claiming other parts of Arunachal Pradesh as its own. China is encroaching on the long McMahon line, the border with India and causing tensions. China has built a strong defence and missile setup across Indian border. Any time, the expected war may break out with India.
China may start a limited war with India
USA on the other hand is supporting India. Even in the 1962 war, USA extended its support to India to curb Chinese ambitions. This is the only factor that is weaning away China from attacking India. But a war on a limited scale in which China could quickly attack and grab Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh (where its sworn enemy Dalai Lama resides at Dharmasala) is on the cards. After capturing these territories, China could stop the war and offer a truce with a ‘peace’ proposal. If this happens, then India cannot expect any support from the SAARC nations. It has to rely to USA to get back its lost territories or else opt to press the nuclear button against China. USA may help India to stop the war but it cannot get India back the lost territories of Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. This is the stark reality today. India has to get back these territories by using its nuclear leverage. But if India feels that it cannot get back the lost territories from China through negotiations, it will not hesitate to press its nuclear trigger to destroy China and in turn to get itself destroyed. With India and China both destroyed through mutual nuclear holocaust, the world will look different.
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