India backing out of the Islamabad Summit does not augur well for the grouping’s future.
Founded at Dhaka in 1985, with great expectations, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), has degenerated into an Association for Regional Confrontation instead of Cooperation.
It was a dream concept with ambitious goals. The brainchild of the late Bangladesh president General Ziaur Rahman, it envisaged an organisation on the pattern of the European Union, with free trade, visa-less travel, customs union, common market, a common currency and, perhaps, even a common defence at some stage. But, for any forum with India and Pakistan as members, it would be unrealistic to expect unity. They fight like Kilkenny cats whenever they get together and vitiate the atmosphere.
The organization boasts six apex
By S.G. Jilanee bodies, namely, SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation In Law, South Asian Federation of Accountants, South Asia Foundation, South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children and Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature.
Besides, there are regional centers located in member countries such as Agricultural Centre, Meteorological Research Centre, Forestry Centre, Development Fund, Disaster Management Centre, Documentation Centre, Coastal Zone Management Centre, SAARC Information Centre, Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre, Human Resources Development Centre, Energy Centre and Cultural Centre.
How these bodies and centres function and what they have so far achieved does not receive the light of day. Nonetheless the organization has been limping along all these years with its secretariat in Nepal.
A South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) was launched in 2006 but intraSAARC trade amounts to just a little over 1% of SAARC's GDP. In contrast, in ASEAN ( which is actually smaller than SAARC in terms of the size of the economy) the intra-bloc trade stands at 10% of its GDP.
In an ideal situation under SAFTA, transport would have plied between Afghanistan and Nepal or Bangladesh across Pakistan and India with goods. But Pakistan does not allow overland trade between India and Afghanistan across its territory.
Due to the eternal rivalry between Pakistan and India, each has tried to