TOPICS : Issues that SAARC should address

If all goes well, the SAARC summit will be held on 9-10 November this year in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The secretary-level meeting would soon take place to decide on the summit agenda. This year is also the 20th anniversary of the establishment of this regional body.

SAARC today is confronted with not only SAFTA and SAPTA documents to formalise and implement, but also has before it numerous socio-political challenges. Besides having to concentrate on peaceful resolution of crisis to curb terrorism in the region, SAARC is threatened by illegal flow of small arms, human trafficking, drug smuggling, disaster management efforts, among others. But most urgently it has to deal with the states that have denied people’s socio-political rights to them.

All know how much SAARC has achieved in the last 20 years. Since its formation SAARC has failed to successfully address the concerns of the people of this region. The geo-political realities apart, it has not been able to effectively deal with socio-economic hardships of the millions of people reeling under poverty in the region. The lack of political will among the leaders is said to be one of the main reasons why it has not been able to evolve into a strong regional association in comparison to EU for instance. And most importantly, since some of the member countries have undemocratic systems led by army generals and monarchs, people’s fundamental rights are denied.

Meanwhile, militarisation and nuclearisation are two main concerns of regional experts today. Ironically, while the SAARC is meant to further “South Asianisation” process by addressing people’s grievances, it is unfortunate that many states are embarking on a path of militarisation and dictatorship. India and Pakistan both are nuclear powers and now recipients of the US military aid. Nepal too increased its military expenditure in its recently published budget.

In a workshop organised by South Asia Partnership-International in Kathmandu last week, experts from South Asia said that at a time when democratic rights of the people are denied, what sort of people-based policy SAARC would formulate is questionable. “Unless people’s rights are guaranteed and democratic process brought back in track, not much can be achieved by any regional efforts,” said Mr Karamat Ali, a Pakistan-based social activist, at the gathering. According to him, labour rights, migrant laws, etc are issues, which can only be brought through democratic systems and that there can be no military solution to the conflicts of this region.

During this regional people’s forum the participants rightly demanded that all states should reduce their military expenditure by at least 10 per cent annually and divert the amount to social security sector for the sake of millions of those in South Asia dying of hunger. It would be better if the South Asian countries realised that the issues of poverty, hunger, displacement, and even insurgency spring from the social ills and it is this that we need to fight urgently.