SAARC: Bureaucratic Giant and Losing Relevance

West Lafayette, IN, United States- Bhutan’s capital Thimpu hosted this bi-annual SAARC summit this year (April 28-29). The eight nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s (SAARC) 16th summit welcomed nine nations as observers-including Myanmar, Australia, Iran and China.
This year’s summit focused on climate change, following on the momentum set by Copenhagen-15 climate change summit earlier this year. For a region that is already seeing dangerous effect of changing global climate-increased floods, rising sea level, melting glaciers and prolonged drought, the decision to push environmental agenda is indeed a welcome step.

Unfortunately, observing SAARC’s history it is likely that climate change agenda will remain a paper tiger.

Since its inception, SAARC as an organization has little authority to make anything significant happen. Its charter strictly limits member nation’s ability to push an agenda-if there any opposition. This hands-off policy has stunted SAARC’s growth and influence.

For instance, during India-Pakistan war following dispute over Kashmir border areas (the Kargil war of 1999), SAARC was no where to be seen. Other regional organizations-ASEAN, European Union expressed their respective position and pushed to a diplomatic solution, but SAARC was paralyzed by indecision.

SAARC also failed miserably to push for peace and human rights in Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal. The organization’s policy to not interfere in member nation’s “internal matters” has meant that state sponsored ethic cleansing in Bhutan was tolerated, violence against Sri Lanka’s Tamil’s was accepted and violence in Nepal was ignored.

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