The recent attacks in Uri have again raised serious questions on the future of regional cooperation in South Asia. SAARC was formed with a vision of developing regional cooperation in the region on the lines of European Union and ASEAN. But even after 30 years of it’s existence, SAARC has sadly, failed to move even a single step forward in this direction, and the reason for it has been, most of the times, the obstructionist attitude of Pakistan. With SAARC being a dud organization thanks to Pakistan’s use of the forum to rant on Kashmir, its time for India to throw Pak out of SAARC. With Pak out, SAARC can be modelled on ASEAN and go a long way in seamless regional economic and geographic integration.
SAARC has been moribund whereas other associations launched for closer economic and regional integration have forged ahead. South Asia is the only region in the world which trades more with far away countries than within themselves. All this has to do with Pakistan’s use of SAARC for promoting Kashmir cause and obstructing any moves in integration of the region.
Pakistan sees itself as a region which can block India’s trade and movement to Central Asian countries. Throughout history, the Silk road enabled great trade between India and Central Asian countries and Afghanistan. Pakistan has blocked India’s trade with these regions. Recently, Afghanistan warned Pakistan that if it didnt allow trade between India and Afghanistan, then it will block trade between Pakistan and Central Asia. The move didnt work.
India is a civilization and all countries in South Asia should be deeply integrated.
All SAARC countries proposed a seamless connectivity in power transmission grids, roads and railways but Pakistan blocked the move. India, later, entered into a smaller connectivity partnership between BBIN countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India. It is pertinent to mention here that after India has demarcated boundaries with Bangladesh, now India’s good are being sent via Bangladesh to North East, thereby saving huge time. India has also got access to a port in Chittagong, which was earlier not available.
India is also connecting seamlessly with Myanmar, Thailand by a motor-able road. This would open us new vistas for North East. Then there is a railway line being made between Nepal and India.
India has also proposed a bridge with railway line and road across the Palk Strait, to Sri Lanka. This is under active consideration of World Bank, for funding.
Pakistan has, since its birth, traded westwards, by routing products from Middle East and completely blocked trade with India. India gave Pakistan MFN status under WTO in 1996 thereby lowering tariffs on good from Pakistan, but Pakistan is yet to reciprocate by granting MFN to India. Even the goods that reach Pakistan from India are through Dubai. Thus, Pakistan has treated itself as a part of Islamic middle-east, rather than extension of the Indian subcontinent.
Since, the whole platform of SAARC is not of any use, the only way to make it an active one is to throw Pakistan out of SAARC. In any case, Pakistan will never allow India seamless connectivity through it. Pakistan has also inducted China as an observer in SAARC, to balance India. China’s moves with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar are well known, apart from its CPEC corridor through Pakistan and development of Gwadar port. While India has countered with Chahabar port in Iran, but how much would India be wishing since ages, that it gets road and rail connectivity through Pakistan to Afghanistan and Central Asia, with which it had historic links.
However, if it is impossible to throw Pak out of SAARC, India should use the other forum – SASEC. This forum – SASEC, comprises of all SAARC countries minus Pakistan and Afghanistan.
SASEC can be a forum for launch of an ASEAN type integration in South Asia. After the Uri attack, this would throw Pakistan off balance and check its nuisance value in the region.