Cancellation of SAARC Meet

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    • The meeting of foreign ministers from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries has been cancelled. 
      • The meeting was set to be held in New York on 25 September 2021.
      • It was to be hosted by Nepal.
    • The suspected reason may be disagreement among the member states over the participation of Afghanistan.
      • In particular, the loggerhead was between Pakistan and India over the issue.

    What are the differing opinions?

    • Pakistan first objected to the participation of any official from the previous Ghani administration.
    • In response, SAARC members reportedly agreed to keep an “empty chair” as a symbolic representation of Afghanistan.
    • However, Islamabad later insisted that the Taliban be allowed to send its representative to the summit.
    • It was rejected by all of the other member states.
    • After no consensus could be formed, Nepal, the ‘host’ of the summit, officially cancelled the meeting.

    Reasons behind the Objection by SAARC members

    • Non-Recognition of Taliban as legitimate government
      • The Taliban has not been recognised as the official government of Afghanistan by any SAARC countries barring Pakistan.
    • Several Taliban Leaders blacklisted as terrorists
      • Several top Taliban leaders are blacklisted by the US and/or designated as international terrorists.
      • Senior leaders who are not blacklisted are known for supporting terrorist activities or affiliating with terrorist organisations.
    • Non Inclusive Government
      • Recently, at the SCO meet, India referred to the Taliban as a non-inclusive government.
        • It also warned other nations to think before accepting the regime in Afghanistan.
    • Threat of Spillover Terrorism due to Dominant Haqqani Network
      • SAARC members are deeply aware of the threat of spillover terrorism from Afghanistan under the Taliban regime.
      • Bangladesh in particular, is concerned with the effect it may have on extremism within its borders.
    • Involvement in Drugs, Illegal Weapon and Human Trafficking trades
      • Developments in Afghanistan could lead to uncontrolled flow of drugs, illegal weapons and human trafficking.

    South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

    • SAARC is a regional inter-governmental organisation of South Asian countries.
      • It was founded in Dhaka.
      • It is headquartered at Kathmandu in Nepal.
    • It has 8 members namely
      • India, 
      • Bangladesh, 
      • Bhutan, 
      • Maldives, 
      • Nepal, 
      • Pakistan,
      • Sri Lanka,
      • Afghanistan. 
        • Afghanistan joined the bloc in 2007, under its then President Hamid Karzai. 
    • Observer Members
      • SAARC also includes 9 formally recognised observers including the European Union, the US, Iran and China.

     

    Courtesy: ResearchGate

    Genesis of SAARC

    • After the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the security situation in South Asia rapidly deteriorated. 
    • In response, the foreign ministers of the initial 7 members met in Colombo in 1981.
    • At the meeting, Bangladesh proposed forming a regional association that would meet to discuss matters such as security and trade.
    • While most of the countries present were in favour of the proposal, India and Pakistan were sceptical.
      • Eventually, both countries relented. 
    • In 1983 in Dhaka, the 7 nations signed the Declaration on South Asian Association Regional Cooperation. 
      • With it, the official formation of SAARC was signalled. 
      • In Dec 1985, First official meeting of SAARC was held.
    • At the Dhaka meeting, the member countries also launched the Integrated Program of Action.
      • It outlined the five areas of cooperation between SAARC countries, namely, 
        • Agriculture; 
        • Rural development; 
        • Telecommunications; 
        • Meteorology; and 
        • Health and population activities. 
    • According to the SAARC charter, the goal of the organisation was to contribute to “mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems”.

     

    Induction of Afghanistan

    • In 2005, Afghanistan formally applied for membership to SAARC.
      • It spurred debate among SAARC members due to the following reasons.
        • the nascent status of Afghan democracy and 
        • the perception of the country as a Central Asian nation.
    • The SAARC nations, pressured by Pakistan, agreed to admit Afghanistan into the bloc with the stipulation that it first hold nonpartisan general elections.
      • Afghanistan held the elections in late 2005.
    • In 2007, Afghanistan became the eighth member state of SAARC.

    Challenges of SAARC

    • Not a regional association like EU or African Union
      • Despite its lofty ambitions, SAARC has not become a regional association in the mould of the European Union or the African Union.
    • Internal Conflict
      • Its member states are plagued by internal divisions, most notably the conflict between India and Pakistan.
    • Unable to Form any Comprehensive Trade Agreement
      • Till now SAARC is unable to form comprehensive trade agreements.
    • Stalled proposals on different Collaborations
      •  The SAARC has not been able to meaningfully collaborate on areas such as security, energy and infrastructure.
    • Indo- Pakistan strained relations
      • The 18th and last SAARC summit was held in 2014 with Pakistan scheduled to host the 19th summit in 2016.
      • However, following Islamabad’s alleged involvement in the Uri terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir, India refused to participate. 
      • Soon after, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka also pulled out of the summit.
        • They cited 
          • fears of regional insecurity caused by Pakistan and 
          • a lack of a conducive environment for the talks. 
      • Nepal was unable to withdraw from the summit as the chairperson of SAARC was from Nepal.

     

    Courtesy: MapsofWorld

     

    Relevance of SAARC

    • Despite these setbacks or challenges, SAARC has achieved a modicum of success.
    • A Regional Discussion Platform
      • It has provided a platform for representatives from member countries to meet and discuss important issues which may have been challenging through bilateral discussions. 
      • For Example: India and Pakistan would struggle to publicly justify a meeting when tensions between the two are particularly high.
        • But representatives from both countries could come together under the banner of SAARC.
    • Joint Cooperation on few issues
      • The bloc has also made some headway in signing agreements related to 
        • Climate change, 
        • Food security and 
        • Combatting the Covid-19 crisis.
      • It has the potential to do far more but that is contingent upon cooperation on key issues between member states.
    • Indian Initiatives like SAARC satellite, Operation Sanjeevani, etc.
      • Although Pakistan has been reluctant to join Indian initiatives, different SAARC nations have benefitted from Gujral Doctrine of India.

    Concussion and Way Forward

    • Wait and Watch regarding Afghanistan
      • India and other countries have met and should keep in touch with Taliban spokespeople.
      • But SAARC should wait and demand a representative government from the Taliban before allowing them to represent Afghanistan in SAARC.
    • SAARC has its own significance
      • SAARC can help India to have energy security and give it access to Central Asia.
    • Try to strengthen BIMSTEC
      • As an alternative, India should diversify its options by strengthening BIMSTEC.

    Source: IE