Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's in the Eyes: Prayers for a Dying SAARC? Cross-Fertilising AU Dynamics!

At a time when the African Union's Peace and Security Council has well and truly slapped sanctions on the "rebellious" Comoros Islands, restricting their travel, and freezing their accounts, it beggars belief that in September, in a piece on the BBC about SAARC, a SAARC citizen would have written this in respect to the putative failure of SAARC:

Apart from OAU/OUA no other regional organization can rival the irrelevance of SAARC. The initiatives on the economic side which drove MERCOSUR, ASEAN, NAFT, EEA, usually have been put on sidelines. Pakistan does not even accord Most Favored Nation status to India. SAARC conferences are big fund guzzlers in a region that excels in poverty. It is completely irrelevant, particularly for India, to break out of the mold of 'Greater India' or Akhanda Bharat mindset and focus more on economic development, it does not need more laggards to pull it down. A good example is European Union, quite a choosy, club, which has elected to exclude Turkey. Sometimes less can even turn out to be more!
Sandeep Chowdhury, Germany

I'm not quite sure what to do about such comments--whether to laugh or cry. On the flip side, it reveals the profound misunderstanding that exists by many worldwide on the different types of regionalisms that exist, and the qualitative nature of those regionalisms.

I can very well imagine that there are many EU citizens who have probably never heard of ECOWAS or COMESA or even the ACP Group--even though it's well and truly ensconced some five minutes drive, on Avenue Georges Henri, past the metros of Schuman, into the European Communities!

Back to the SAARC expatiation, and you see something a bit predictable and sinister. Predictable, because casual observors of the region have talked at length about the apathy exuding from the region by India in reconciling with Pakistan--and how that is a key factor in injecting vigour into the seven/eight-- (if you count Afghanistan) member regional organisation established since 1985. It's going to be 22 years old this December, and I daresay the analysis around that period will be...more of the same.

Sinister, because a lot of the blame is predicated on an India-Pakistan nexus of (atavistic) and historical "hate".

Looking specifically at some of the submissions by readers, the comments ranged in between these answers:

  • Saarc is a failure because of India

  • without economic integration like the EU and NAFTA and (name your western economic cooperation agreement), SAARC will be irrelevant

  • Pakistan should go it alone, because it can benefit where it is losing from SAARC

  • India should go it alone because it is not adding to or gaining anything from SAARC

  • It is important to indicate that the submissions came from India; Germany; USA; Zimbabwe; UK; Pakistan; Canada; Italy; Pakistan; and Maldives (another member of SAARC)

    One submission from Pakistan maintained:

    The only thing that the Saarc summit has ever been able to decide is where the next Saarc summit should be held. It is a pathetic organisation - though mind you there are others in competition with it in being useless for example Sadc - the Southern African Development Community.
    Alia Mansuri, Pakistan

    It is interesting, also, to note that the submission above about "OAU" (it's been the AU since 2003!!) was made by I presume a SAARC citizen in...the more "successful" EU.

    I was priviledged some three weeks ago to have been part of a seminar on regional integration, hosted here in Accra, by my organisation, and organised by CODESRIA. in which one academic from Tunis presented a paper about the Arab Maghreb Union being highly irrelevant out of the AU RECs (and the world).

    This to me says that whilst the submission from Germany was profoundly myopic about the qualitative nature of regionalisms worldwide, the sense that citizens of "failing" regionalisms--never mind failing states are waking up to smell the bitter coffee that there are better examples elsewhere.

    Without forcing a pun, they're truly getting critical on regional integration perspectives. A little more progressive views might help, though!;-)

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