Problems while promoting regional cooperation in South Asia explored at an international conference
The primary reason for lack of progress is that South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is not multilateral in the real sense of the term. Bilateralism is disguised as multilateralism in SAARC, said T.P. Srinivasan, Vice-Chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council and former Ambassador.
Speaking at the International Conference on Greater Connectivity in Regional Integration in South Asia, he said, “At a time when the world is adopting a multilateral regional approach to development, SAARC is still groping in the dark for an effective formula for regional cooperation. More often than not, SAARC is plagued by tensions of various kinds.”
India’s differences with Pakistan and a few other neighbours came before SAARC was created. These problems still exist and have detracted from the viability of SAARC as a catalyst of peace.
Even though there are several problems between countries in the SAARC region that are political or driven by other compulsions, it is possible to bring unity through cultural exchange, she said In his speech, spoke of the various problems that are come across when promoting regional cooperation in South Asia.
India was initially hesitant to join SAARC because it realised that there was the danger of its neighbours engaging in collective bargaining to extract concessions from their bigger neighbour. India had also guessed, that Pakistan would use any regional organisation to raise bilateral issues.
Several countries tend to blame India and Pakistan for the failure of SAARC since most of the conferences and their decisions remain on paper.
The rise of China has also had impact on SAARC, even though China is an observer and only aspires to be a full member.
They have, however, cultivated member states to make them more dependent on China, which has resulted in reducing the influence of India in the region, he said.
On the other hand, however, interaction between people from South Asia who reside abroad is encouraging. South Asians generally tend to flock together in the US, UK and other immigrant countries.
They do not even mind being called Indian as long as they have benefits from it, said Mr. Srinivasan
Pakistanis and Bangladeshis run Indian restaraunts and South Asian organisations like the South Asian Journalists Association in the US which represents the entire region and has given them a greater acceptability and credibility, he said.
“Many Indians abroad believe in the kind of vision that Ambassador Madanjeet Singh had of a South Asian identity. A movement for regional integration can grow abroad and wield its influence in the region,” he said.
Explaining universities’ role in the building of relations between countries, Vice-Chancellor of Pondicherry University Chandra Krishnamurthy said cultural exchange between two countries through universities and institutions of learning is a good way to promote harmony between the people. Vice-Chairperson of the South Asia Foundation, India Chapter, Veena Sikri spoke of the need to overcome various problems that had arisen between the countries in the region, which would improve the connectivity between them.
The conference was organised by the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute of South Asia Regional Cooperation (UMISARC), along with the Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.