What can make SAARC Work?

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Ananta Apspen Centre organised a session on ‘What can make SAARC work’ at WWF India Auditorium, New Delhi, on November 18, 2014

The 18th summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Kathmandu, Nepal took place after an interval of three years.

Ananta Apspen Centre organised a session on ‘What can make SAARC work’ at WWF India Auditorium, New Delhi, on November 18, 2014. How SAARC can serve as a role model for regional cooperation was discussed at length during the session.

The session was chaired by Ambassador Sheel Kant Sharma, former secretary general of the SAARC. The esteemed speakers who presented their views at the session were: Dr Gowher Rizvi, Prime Minister’s International Affairs Advisor (with rank of Cabinet Minister), Bangladesh; and Ambassador Shyam Saran, Chairman, National Security Advisory Board and Chairman, Research and Information System for Developing Countries.

While presenting the opening remarks, Ambassador Sharma briefed the audience about the background of SAARC. He pointed out three areas for cooperation between the South Asian countries that would be of significance: Maritime Security; Natural Disasters; and, Exploring Demographics.

Dr Rizvi said that the achievements of SAARC are often underestimated. He stressed institutional change in the framework of SAARC and said that the secretary general has to be given more authority (of a ministerial level).

Citing the importance of India as a big nation and the largest economy in the region, he said, “Small nations come towards India as they think India can provide manoeuvre”.

Stressing the need to enhance cooperation between the nations, he said, “Through cooperation we can deal with trans-national issues e.g. drug trafficking, terrorism, river water sharing etc.”

“South Asia’s greatest advantage is its proximity between countries and this has helped the region to develop a good market internally. Many things have been discussed in the previous summits, but implementation is holding SAARC back. Therefore, we have to come together and reshape the entire South Asia,” he said.

Ambassador Shyam Saran, stressed the importance of India in the South Asia. He said, “Let India emerge as an anchor of energy for all South Asia”. He cited two reasons:

• India is comparatively large in area, population and economy; and,

• India shares borders with all the countries but these countries do not share borders with each other.

He pointed out the advantage of proximity of all the countries of South Asia, and said that SAARC has to leverage this big advantage by overcoming barriers like immigration, customs, etc for free flow of trade and people.

He also cited the lack of financing of SAARC as a major hurdle in the implementation of desired goals and the development of the overall region. He said, “There is a SAARC development fund based in Thimpu (Bhutan), but we are looking for SAARC bank on the lines of BRICS bank to overcome the financing problem.”

Sharing the need of enhanced cooperation irrespective of differences between some nations, he said, “South Asia is an ecologically connected region and all the countries are vulnerable to climatic and environmental conditions, so there is a need for dynamic cooperation between countries and to work out the solutions.”

Several delegates and representatives from both business and political communities graced the event.

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Aamir H Kaki

Reported by Aamir H Kaki

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