Current General Studies Magazine (October 2016)
General Studies - II "International Relations Based
Article" (India and SAARC : So Far and Way Beyond)
The idea of co-operation in South Asia, technically speaking,
is older that the Indian Republic. It was first discussed in the Asian Relations
Conference held in New Delhi on April 1947 followed by the Baguio Conference in
the Philippines on May 1950 and the Colombo Powers Conference held in Sri Lanka
in April 1954. After that there was a big lull for over two decades, possibly
due to the effects of cold war and the strained Indo-Pak relations resulting in
two wars. The trust deficit among the countries in the region could not make
them think seriously on the issue. While there was a fear among the other six
nations about the use of such organisation by India in its favour and the
possibility of India behaving in typical big brotherly attitude to browbeat
them, India’s apprehension was that such an organisation might be used by her
smaller neighbours to extract undue concessions by expressing their fear of
being bullied by India. Pakistan was also sceptical about formation of such an
organisation which might be used by India to enhance her propaganda against
In the ending years of 70s, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India,
Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka agreed, in principle, upon the creation
of a trade bloc and to provide a platform for the peoples of South Asia to work
together in a spirit of friendship, trust and understanding. President Ziaur
Rahman took initiative by formally writing to his counterparts in the region
giving his vision for the region and compelling arguments for the need of such a
regional organisation. King Birendra of Nepal also urged for closer regional
cooperation among South Asian countries in sharing river waters. After the
USSR's intervention in Afghanistan resulting in rapid deterioration of South
Asian security situation the efforts to establish such an organisation in the
region gained momentum in 1979. Responding to Rahman and Birendra's convention,
the officials of the foreign ministries of the seven countries met for the first
time in Colombo in April 1981. The Bangladeshi proposal was promptly endorsed by
Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives but India and Pakistan were sceptical
initially. However, after hectic diplomatic consultations between South Asian
foreign ministers, it was agreed that Bangladesh would prepare the draft of a
working paper for discussion among the foreign secretaries of South Asian
countries. In 1983, the international conference held by Indian Minister of
External Affairs P.V. Narasimha Rao in New Delhi, the foreign ministers of the
inner seven countries adopted the Declaration on South Asian Association
Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and formally launched the Integrated Programme of
Action (IPA) initially in five agreed areas of cooperation namely, Agriculture;
Rural Development; Telecommunications; Meteorology; and Health and Population
Finally, SAARC charter was adopted during the inaugural summit of SAARC held
in Dhaka on 8th December, 1985 the guiding principles of which were:
1. Cooperation within the framework of the Association shall
be based on respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial
integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of
other States and mutual benefit.
2. Such cooperation shall not be a substitute for bilateral and multilateral
cooperation but shall complement them.
3. Such cooperation shall not be inconsistent with bilateral and multilateral
The summit level meeting are held annually on rotational
basis in alphabetical order. Thus, after being hosted by Nepal last year, this
year’s summit was scheduled to be held in Pakistan. It has a permanent
Secretariat in Kathmandu, a Secretary General on rotational basis, a Council of
Ministers comprising the Foreign ministers of the member countries and meeting
twice a year, , a Standing Committee comprising the foreign Ministers of the
member countries for monitoring and coordination of various projects undertaken
by the organisation and technical and action committees as and when required.
Each member country deputes one officer called director based at the secretariat
in Kathmandu. Finances for running the organisation are from the voluntary
contributions from the member states. Two of the most important features of
SAARC are that all decisions are to be taken by consensus and that bilateral and
contentious issues shall be excluded from the deleberations.
In 2005, Afghanistan began negotiating their accession to
SAARC and formally applied for membership on the same year. The issue of
Afghanistan joining SAARC generated a great deal of debate in each member state,
including concerns about the definition of South Asian identity because
Afghanistan is a Central Asian country.
The SAARC member states imposed a stipulation for Afghanistan
to hold a general election; the non-partisan elections were held in late 2005.
Despite initial reluctance and internal debates, Afghanistan joined SAARC as its
eighth member state in April 2007.
States with observer status include Australia, China, the
European Union, Iran, Japan, Mauritius, Myanmar, South Korea and the United
States. During the last summit in Kathmandu, at the behest of China, Pakistan
proposed to upgrade the former’s status to full member but it was turned down
after Indian objection.
On 2 August 2006, the foreign ministers of the SAARC
countries agreed in principle to grant observer status to three applicants; the
US and South Korea (both made requests in April 2006), as well as the European
Union (requested in July 2006). On 4 March 2007, Iran requested observer status,
followed shortly by Mauritius.
Potential future members
Myanmar has expressed interest in upgrading its status from an observer to a
full member of SAARC. Russia has applied for observer status membership of SAARC.
Turkey applied for observer status membership of SAARC in 2012 .
1. SAFTA SAFTA was envisaged primarily as the first step
towards the transition to a Customs Union, Common Market and Economic Union. The
SAFTA Agreement was signed on 6 January 2004 during Twelfth SAARC Summit held in
Islamabad, Pakistan. The Agreement entered into force on 1 January 2006, and the
Trade Liberalisation Programme commenced from 1 July 2006. Under this agreement,
SAARC members were to bring their duties down to 20 per cent by 2009. Following
the Agreement coming into force the SAFTA Ministerial Council (SMC) has been
established comprising the Commerce Ministers of the Member States. In 2012 the
SAARC exports increased substantially to US$354.6 billion from US$206.7 billion
in 2009. Imports too increased from US$330 billion to US$602 billion over the
same period. But the intra-SAARC trade amounts to just a little over 1% of
SAARC's GDP. In contrast, in ASEAN (which is actually smaller than SAARC in
terms of size of economy) the intra-bloc trade stands at 10% of its GDP
.However, SAFTA is yet to be implemented.
2. SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme The SAARC Visa Exemption
Scheme was launched in 1992. The leaders at the Fourth Summit (Islamabad, 29–31
December 1988), while realising the importance of having people to people
contacts, among the peoples of SAARC countries, decided that certain categories
of dignitaries should be entitled to a Special Travel document, which would
exempt them from visas within the region. As directed by the Summit, the Council
of Ministers regularly kept under review the list of entitled categories.
Currently the list included 24 categories of entitled persons, which include
Dignitaries, Judges of higher courts, Parliamentarians, Senior Officials,
Businessmen, Journalists, Sportsmen etc. The Visa Stickers are issued by the
respective Member States to the entitled categories of that particular country.
The validity of the Visa Sticker is generally for one year. The implementation
is reviewed regularly by the Immigration Authorities of SAARC Member States.
3. South Asian University On initiative of India, a Concept
Paper for SAU was submitted to the SAARC Governments to elicit their views. The
idea of a South Asian University found favour in all SAARC Member States and an
inter-ministerial Agreement for Establishment of South Asian University was
signed on 04 April 2007, during the 14th SAARC Summit in New Delhi. SAARC
Secretariat approved the concept of establishing SAU in the 16th SAARC Summit
held in Thimpu in 2010. Accordingly, the South Asian University opened its door
to students in August 2010.
Currently, the University offers Doctoral and Post Graduate
programs in seven areas: Applied Mathematics, Biotechnology, Computer Science,
Development Economics, International Relations, Law and Sociology. The
university is likely to shift soon to its permanent campus in Delhi.
The capital cost of establishing the SAU is being provided by
the Indian government, while all SAARC member countries share the operational
costs in proportions that are mutually agreed upon. Later, the University would
also raise money from international financial institutions, educational
foundations and donors.
Where SAARC failed
SAARC almost failed to accomplish its ambitious objectives
during the last 25 years due to the political difference, conflicts and poor
economic state of the member countries. Most of the programs and achievements
exist only in official documents. During the Bangladesh cyclone (1991), Pakistan
earth quack (2005) and flood in Pakistan (2010), Food Security Reserve of SAARC
could not be used to satisfy the demands of the affected people.
The intra-regional trade of SAARC amounted to $40.5 billion
in 2011, which constitutes just 5% of member countries’ trade, figure too
negligible as compared with volume of trilateral trade between member-countries
of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, (the US, Canada and Mexico)
which hit $1 trillion in 2011.
While different regions of the world have progressed even to
monetary union, SAARC has failed to even come up with a free trade agreement.
Even in the Kathmandu Summit 2014, there were three connectivity agreements on
road, rail and energy, to be endorsed by the eight SAARC leaders. Only one of
these - on energy - has been signed.
Reasons for failure
Weak Cultural Identities - Pakistan wants to assert itself as
Islamic State and calls India a Hindu State. The debates regarding identity are
similarly going on in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The pursuit of maintaining
distinct cultural identity by every country has not allowed the region to come
together. Rivalry between India and Pakistan, the two largest members of SAARC,
has cast its shadow on SAARC. This is evident in recent boycott of the
forthcoming summit to be held in Islamabad by five out of the eight members
though Pakistan’s track record as terrorist state responsible for this.
The region still faces many unresolved border and maritime
issues. These unresolved borders have led to problems of Terrorism, Refugee
Crisis, Smuggling, Narco-Trade. The unresolved issues continue to restrict
SAARC Charter Article X(2) of the SAARC Charter mandates that
decisions, at all levels in SAARC, are only of multilateral issues, and only
those issues are for inclusion in the agenda in a SAARC summit meeting on the
basis of unanimity. The SAARC platform thus cannot be used to resolve bilateral
issues; this has undermined the scope and potential of SAARC.
Suggestions for the future
India has already taken the leadership on the agreements for
bettering intra-regional connectivity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan for a
SAARC satellite that can launch the space exploration dreams for all countries
of the region is a powerful idea.
India’s internal politics has sometimes played a negative
role to India’s aspirations vis-à-vis SAARC. The Central Government’s policy on
Tamil Issue in Sri Lanka has not been accepted by the Tamil Nadu Government.
India has to forcefully articulate South Asian Vision so as to avoid these
internal domestic disruptions. The objectives and targets of SAFTA should be
India’s bilateral relations with the SAARC members Afghanistan
India’s relations with Afghanistan were cordial and without
any irritants during the 10-year tenure of former President Karzai (2004-2014).
As part of its contribution towards stabilization of Afghanistan, India
committed over $ 2 billion assistance to Afghanistan for the development of its
infrastructure, strengthening of the institutions of democracy, capacity
building including training of Afghan armed forces. Afghanistan is the only
country in the region with which India has entered into a strategic partnership
agreement (4th October, 2011); India has supplied three multi-role Helicopters
MI-35 which the Afghans have put to effective use in combating terrorists.
Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, assumed charge as the new President of
Afghanistan, in September 2014. Initially he created an impression that India
figured relatively low in the list of his foreign policy priorities. His visit
to India (April 28-29, 2015) came several months after assumption of charge; in
between he visited two other countries in the region namely China and Pakistan,
besides UK and Saudi Arabia. During his visit to India, the Afghan President
made attempts to correct the impression. In the Joint Statement of 28th April,
2015, the Afghan President reiterated "Afghanistan's perspective on the
foundational nature of Afghanistan's ties with India, and the fact that India
figured in four of the five 'circles' of Afghanistan's foreign policy
PM Modi visited Kabul in December last year when he
inaugurated the new Afghanistan Parliament building built with India’s
assistance and also addressed the Parliamentarians of Afghanistan. He also
inaugurated Selma Dam built with Indian assistance. PM Modi reiterated " India’s
commitment to extend all possible support to the efforts of the Afghan people in
building a peaceful, stable, prosperous, inclusive and democratic country. Ghani
again paid a visit to India recently during which an aid to the tune of US$ I
billion from India to Afghanistan was announced .
India’s relations with Bangladesh had, by and large, been
cordial and friendly except for few years of the rule of Bangladesh Nationalist
party led by general Zia-ul-Haq and his widow Khaleda Zia. As India liberated
the erstwhile East Pakistan to form a new nation of Bangladesh, the governments
of Sheikh Mujib and his daughter Hasina Wajeb had extremely good relations with
their western neighbour. The four unresolved major issues between the two
countries were 1) demarcation of boundary including the problem of enclaves, 2)
sharing of water of Ganga/Hugli and Teesta rivers and 3) terrorist attacks from
Bangladesh border. The boundary accord was waiting just the implementation.
At the time of Modi’s visit to Dhaka, the documents were
exchanged signalling the implementation of the Treaty. Accordingly, India has
surrendered 111 enclaves to Bangladesh and, in turn, received 77 thus ending
decades long complex situation.
The water sharing dispute due to the construction of farakka
barrage by India had been solved amicably. On Teesta waters, attempts are under
way to convince the State government of Bengal, the last hurdle in
Bangladesh’ stern action on the terrorist/jihadi groups has convincingly
reduced the threat of terrorist attack from our eastern border thus reaffirming
the credentials and intentions of the Awami League government.
The issue of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh still remains and needs a
consensus of political parties in India as some of them perceive these as
potential vote bank.
From 2011 to 2014, India had extended assistance to
Bangladesh to the tune of US$ one million and Bangladesh was expecting the same
amount. However, PM Modi surprised the eastern neighbour by announcing a fresh
assistance of US$ 2 billion to be used as soft loan and grants for developmental
projects in Bangladesh.
Our relations with this landlocked tiny hilly nation have
always been exemplary. In 1949, a treaty signed by the two countries gave India
an advantageous role of "guide” of Bhutan’s foreign policy and defence matters.
After the protests from Bhutan about continuation of a "guide” for foreign and
defence matters of a sovereign nation, the treaty was partially modified in 2007
to remove this role. Nevertheless Bhutan’s policies are by and large pegged with
Indian policy. Bhutan is dependent on India for its external trade as it is a
land-locked nation. It is also the recipient of highest aid/loan from India for
its developmental projects. During the last fiscal year, Bhutan received aid of
INR 61.61 billion from India-45Bn marked as assistance for Bhutan’s 11th five
year plan, 4 billion for the pending projects and 5 billion as economic stimulus
package. Three huge hydroelectric power projects have been completed and three
more are underway. India buys back the surplus power from Bhutan.
India’s relations with this garland of tiny islands had been
quite old. Geographically this nation of more than 200 islands is an extension
of our union territory Lakshadiv. Politically our relations with this country
had always been friendly.
In December, 1988, India foiled a coup attempt in Male’ a
gorilla outfit from Sri Lanka. In 2008, India welcomed the democratic elections
in Maldives. However, relations deteriorated when President Nasheed resigned and
took shelter in Indian Embassy. Later, he was defeated in the elections in
November 2013.During the first two months of the regime of the new President
Abdulla Yameen, the bilateral relations took a nose dive when the Maldivian
government terminated the contract of Indian company GMAR to build Male’ Airport
on the allegations of irregularity. However, soon Yameen realised his folly and
visited India in January 2014 to reassure his bigger partner of friendly
relations. He also participated in the swearing in ceremony of PM Modi.
Recently, he paid a state visit to India in April, 2016 to reassure India of
Maldives’ friendly relations.
India has extended a standing credit line of US$ 100 million
to Maldives besides a new credit line of UD$40 millions. India has also built
and gifted to Maldives a 200 bed hospital, faculty of Engineering & technology
and a Hotel and tourism school, all much needed for this country heavily
dependent on tourism.
Our relations with Nepal are unique in character. India-Nepal
Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950,is the foundation of these special
relations. Under the provisions of this Treaty, the Nepalese citizens have
enjoyed unparalleled advantages in India, availing facilities and opportunities
at par with the Indian citizens. The Treaty has allowed Nepal to overcome the
disadvantages of being a land–locked country by giving Nepal unhindered trade
route through Indian ports .However, a certain degree of stagnation in relations
with Nepal had crept in resulting in demands from certain nationalist element s
in Nepal demanding the revision of Treaty of 1950. Vested interests in Nepal
have managed to block India- Nepal hydro-power cooperation, as a result of which
Nepal remains net importer of electricity despite enormous hydro-power resources
and the bordering States in India continue to bear the brunt of floods in Nepal.
Moreover, the bitter transitional journey of Nepal from Monarchy to Anarchy and
finally to democracy via Maoist insurgency has taken its toll on the bilateral
relations. The opposition of the new constitution by the madhesis and tharus
resulted in a blockade of transportation of goods to Nepal at the border which
gave rise to allegations that India was trying to browbeat Nepal to clinch a
favourable role for madhesis in the new constitution..
The visit of Prime Minister Modi to Nepal in August 2014 was
the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister in seventeen years. PM undertook
this visit within less than three months of assuming charge. The visit was
preceded by the meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission, headed for the
first time in twenty three years by the Foreign Ministers of two countries. PM
Modi was the only foreigner extended the privilege of addressing Nepal’s
Constituent Assembly and Legislature Parliament.
In response to the sensitivities of the Nepalese, it was
agreed to "review, adjust and update the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950”
so that "the revised Treaty should better reflect the current realities and aim
to further consolidate and expand the multifaceted and deep rooted relationships
in a forward looking manner. PM also assured the Nepal that India had no
intention to interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs, and would like to cooperate
with Nepal in bilateral and sub-regional formats. A US $1 billion soft line of
credit for infrastructure development projects of Nepal’s priority was
announced. The importance of power generation in Nepal for export to India for
reducing Nepal’s trade deficit was also underlined.
The blockade was finally called off on 8th February, 2016
against the backdrop of announcement of Nepali PM’s visit to India and some
amendments to the Constitution. The six-day long visit (19-24 February, 2016) -
PM Oli's first overseas visit- was indeed useful in restoration of mutual trust.
On his return to Kathmandu, PM Oli said he had tried to clear the
"misconception” about the new Constitution of Nepal while India described the
two amendments as "positive developments and hoped that other outstanding issues
would also be addressed similarly in a constructive spirit.
The new Prime Minister of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Prachand
recently paid a visit to India from September 15 to September 19. A leader with
his new India-friendly attitude, Prachand had a more than satisfactory goodwill
visit, which resulted in signing of three MOUs.
Our relations with Pakistan have generally been strained. The
pivot of Pakistani foreign policy had become India-centric. After the
independence, the nascent Pakistan quickly became member of SEATO and CENTO, the
American initiative to counter USSR in the cold war era which further alienated
Pakistan from the Non-aligned India. Pakistani Military’s direct or proxy rule
on the country played a catalytic role in this process.
Three unsuccessful full-scale wars failed to make Pakistan
realise the folly of their foreign policy. Having failed to invite world’s
attention on the issue of Kashmir and to incite dissatisfaction and violence in
the border states of India, Pakistan ignited, supported and actively harboured
the separatist movements, first in Punjab and later in Kashmir. While unrest in
Punjab had been successfully addressed by us, Pakistan keeps on sending
terrorist elements trained on Pakistani soil by ISI and terrorist outfits to
carry out the acts of sabotage and violence, so that it can always claim that
these incidents are a natural reaction of the so called "suppression of voice of
Kashmiris” by Indian government. However, undeterred by the Pakistani stance and
its regular anti- India diatribe, India had taken, time and again, the
initiative to involve Pakistan in constructive dialogue. Of late, the Modi
Government’s pro-active approach of inviting all SAARC Nations’ heads of
Governments, PM’s goodwill visit to Lahore etc. are few examples of this
approach though, in the end, Pakistan has replied with terrorist attacks in
Gurdaspur, Pathankot and Uri.
Economically also, our trade relations with Pakistan had not
been as robust as expected from the two most populous nations of SAARC. The
current total bilateral trade of around 4.5 Billion US$ (formal as well as
informal) is heavily in favour of India. We have granted the Most Favoured
Nation status to Pakistan but it is yet to reciprocate. Ironically, a major
chunk of the trade is informal and indirect meaning India and Pakistan buy most
of each other’s products from a third country, mainly UAE, which heavily
increases the purchase cost due to the transportation charges and middleman’s
commission. So, UAE is prospering at the cost of industry in both countries.
SAAFTA also could not break this barrier due to the trust deficit in Pakistan.
We have met the fait accompli of living with a neighbour like Pakistan till it
disintegrates due to its own policies. Now, with India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri
Lanka and Afghanistan having announced boycott of the impending Summit in
Islamabad, Pakistan has been driven to the corner, at least in the region. The
surgical strikes across the LOC by India had added a new dimension in the
India’ relations with Sri Lank have often been influenced by
the so-called Tamil issue. After the liquidation of the LTTE in 2009, India had
adopted a multi- pronged approach towards Sri Lanka; this policy had several
components: i) to impress upon the Sri Lankan Government to abide by its
commitments towards Sri Lankan Tamils particularly meaningful devolution of
powers and the implementation of the 13th Amendment in a time bound manner; ii)
reiteration of assurances from time to time to Sri Lankan Tamils that it would
make every effort to ensure that the 13th amendment was not diluted and the
future for the community was marked by equality, justice and self-respect; iii)
investment into the reconstruction of Northern Sri Lanka badly affected by
prolonged civil war; iv) accommodate the demands of the Tamil leadership in
India to the extent feasible but ultimately exercise the prerogative of the
Centre in the formulation of foreign policy taking broader national interests
into account rather than being pushed by narrow regional priorities; v) to
monitoring carefully the Chinese overtures in Sri Lanka and check the latter’s
drift towards China. vi) to address the fishermen’s issue. Unfortunately, the
former President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse, despite assurances, did not
deliver on his promises of devolution of power to Sri Lankan Tamil minority,
while also playing the China card. His decidedly pro-China policy allowed China
to capture significant strategic space in Sri Lanka. India’s vote in 2012 and
2013 against Sri Lanka on the UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the issue of
violation of human rights by the Government of Sri Lanka during its war against
LTTE, was obviously not to the liking of Sri Lankans ; India’s decision to
abstain in 2014 was taken as less than consolation.
After the change of guards in Sri Lanka, four high level
visits took place in quick succession between the two neighbours which the
intentions of the leaderships of the two countries to reset their relations. In
addition to the issues related to the devolution of powers to Sri Lankan Tamils
through full implementation of 13th amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution,
meaningful reconciliation in Sri Lanka, safety and security of fishermen,
sensitivity to India’s security concerns, the new thrust has been added on
promoting trade and commerce, maritime security, Ocean Economy etc. More
importantly, there is a political will on both sides to make a new beginning and
take their relations to newer heights.
We can say that this 31year old organisation called SAARC is
unfortunately still tottering while most of its contemporaries are preparing for
the marathon for development. There are problems in SAARC- problems created due
to the difference of perspective among the members. But, like any set of
problems, there is a solution to the challenges that that lies in the expression
of will and determination among the members to forge ahead in cementing the
regional bonding by avoiding clashes on minor issues and for this equal
responsibility lies with each member.
(Source-Amb (Retd) J. K. TRIPATHI @ https://www.mea.gov.in)