Thursday, November 08, 2007

SAARC's Existential Angst (1)

At a time when the SAARC region is in the news thanks to one of its key members, Pakistan, it beggars belief that there has been little effort by the regional organisation, that will be celebrating its 22nd anniversary in December, on the issue of regional security .

And I should know.

I come from a region where regional security has been put on a pedestal on account of the internecine conflicts that engulfed the region in the 1990s. Despite the hegemon of Nigeria, the oil-rich country rarely ever became an obstruction in the development of peace in the ECOWAS region. Nigeria was instrumental in providing significant financial capital towards ECOMOG--the peacekeeping wing of ECOWAS. In 2007, ECOWAS has transformed from a Secretariat to a Commission with commissioners leading on the major issues pertinent to the region. Bottom line? ECOWAS, for all its problems and challenges, has moved on. That is not to say that things cannot be done better, and mindsets changed. For what it's worth we see developments.

Very little changed can be said for SAARC.

Not to deny SAARC having golf tournaments, but I find it ludicrous that a regional organisation with the size that SAARC has (seven members, excluding Afghanistan which joined recently) cannot get its regional organisation going!

Contrast this with the East African Community, which collapsed in 1977, but re-invigorated itself in 1993. Today, Rwanda and Burundi are members, making the organisation 5-member strong. Yet it's going strong. ECOWAS has 15--and look at the regional structures it has: a Parliament; a Community Court; and a strong regional security initiative.

SAARC is nowhere near.

I was encouraged, however, last week to read that Pakistan is going to host SAARC Police Chiefs meeting in February. I thought that here was encouraging news that SAARC was finally getting serious. I had the visceral feeling that the meeting was too closely associated with teh War on Terror, especially as Pakistan's role in that war was cited.

I wondered whether it would make headline news next year when Pakistan hosts the Third Meeting on Home Ministers, because it is a putative ally of the Bush administration, or would it be consigned to the proverbial dustbin of "irrelevant" news?

On the positive note, it was good to see that the SAARC Home Ministers are interested in establishing an electronic network of police authorities of SAARC countries.

It's certainly something that here, in the ECOWAS region, given the spate of gun-related crimes, we could do with! When the West Africa Police Chiefs Committee met a few weeks ago, I do not re-call hearing anything concrete like this SAARC proposal.

However, what was said by Ghana’s Minister of Interior Nana Obiri Boahen, was this:

I am also honoured to be part of this historic occasion when the Police Gendarmerie from our sister Francophone countries are joining their counterparts to discuss issues of mutual and common interest.

I am told that the ECOWAS Commission is expanding its Political Peacekeeping and Security Department to include a police unit that will take care of police issues within the ECOWAS community.

This laudable idea has been on the commission’s agenda for quite some time now and I am particularly happy that the idea is being implemented.


In my view, such lacuna go to underscore complementarities that I have talked about before being factored in any critical and progressive discussion on regional integration.

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