If my initial impressions over SAARC in this blog is anything to go by, you might have gone away feeling that I wasn't too impressed with SAARC. Truth be told, it's less about me being impressed and more being concerned about the lackadaisical debates going on around SAARC and its regional integration of the South Asian countries.
A recent article I came across yesterday, entitled "Changing SAARC: Hopes for a better South Asia" is so platitudinous it's not funny.
Let's first begin by addressing the structure of the article. It starts off discussing the age-old argument -- almost to the death -- about the size of India overshadowing and eclipsing the SAARC regional integration project. Judge for yourself:
1. New Delhi’s gigantic size in terms of natural and human resources, military capability and an emerging economic power creates apprehension of its future role in SAARC, in the minds of other constituents.
2. The growing importance of India in both inter regional and international field as a major actor in terms of economic and military capability appears to have negative consequences in the psychology of other SAARC member countries
3. Other member states look at India suspiciously because of its elephantine size in terms of its population, resources, economy, and its potential to act as a global economic and strategic power
Alright, already! I think we get the picture that India is a big country. It's "elephantine"; it's "gigantic". Point taken.
Now, where's your next argument? That SAARC has matured:
The attainment of the maturity of SAARC is reflected from the fact that it has expanded itself by admitting Afghanistan as the eighth member state and giving China, South Korea and Japan observer status.
But, later in the article, do I sense a contradiction?
SAARC is still very far from maturing as a regional grouping.
So, which is it: is SAARC maturing--or not?
There is the nice historical overview--as demanded by articles on regional integration, tracing the history--from its inception (1985) to now, and occasionally realising that good mathematics is de rigeur:
1. In 22 years-13 summits, not encouraging...
2. Set up in 1985, SAARC has passed its disturbing teen phase and now in 2007, April 3-4 it touched 22 years;
In my view, any discussion on regional integration that divorces any type of rumination, or thinking, on institutions that can facilitate that integration, such as a Central Bank, or a Parliament is an integration project that is not very serious. Declarations on trade and customs union are all very good, but the latter is a key element in getting citizens of SAARC to feel they are comprehensively SAARC citizens.
My personal view is candid: it's an interesting article for both the general and more informed follower of regional integration, but it lacks depth for one simple reason: it is lukewarm in its aspirations of where SAARC should be going.
Even as an African, I should have felt agitated, energised about the developments goingon in the region--but I wasn't, because as much as it is true that
The focus of SAARC should be on implementing collaborative projects., the focus should, in my humble view, not just be about implementation. It should be about dedication and commitment to the precepts of regional integration in SAARC, which goes beyond poverty-reduction.
It should also be about conceiving of a South Asian Community, as expressed in today's Pakistan article from Online Pakistan about India seeing that it has a "a greater regional responsibility".
Finally, the myopia of seeing the EU and ASEAN as the only precursors of regional integration should go. South Asia should be looking at complementing its integration project with exchanges from the African Union and its regional economic communities. For the conflict in Kashmir, SAARC could look at how ECOWAS resolved its conflicts in the sub-region, and still managed to agree to push on regional protocols.