Context:

The statement issued by the Director Generals of Military Operations of India and Pakistan, in February 2021, that they agree to strictly observe all agreements between the two countries, coincided with a statement made by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Colombo that “our only dispute is Kashmir and it can only be resolved through dialogue.”

Such understanding shows the realisation that it is best to focus on resolving issues including poverty, malnutrition and young population, which would help to bring down the socio-economic problems in both India and Pakistan.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbors, Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests)

Mains Questions:

Peace with Pakistan is not just a bilateral matter, but is essential for India to transform South Asia. Discuss. (10 Marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Fallout of Bilateral relations
  2. The Arguments for a United “South Asia”
  3. Way Forward and Conclusion
  4. Back to Basics: About SAARC

Fallout of Bilateral relations

  • Cross border terrorism, Kashmir issue, changing political ideologies, poor economic integration and lack of connectivity.
  • India-Pakistan enmity hurts the south Asian growth – seen in the case of dysfunctional SAARC platform since 2015 and also the Multilateral initiatives that have been muted because of bilateral tensions.

Click Here to read more about the Major Sources of conflict between India and Pakistan

The Arguments for a United “South Asia”

  • World bank has argued that South Asia holds value potential. Integrated South Asia could benefit from Belt and road initiative and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
  • India’s share in total land area, population, and real GDP of South Asia in 2016 was 62%, 75%, and 83% respectively.
  • The two other big countries in South Asia are Pakistan and Bangladesh with shares in regional GDP of only 7.6% and 5.6%, respectively.
  • India can take the lead in transforming a grossly under-performing region like South Asia given its size and heft.
  • An economically transformed and integrated South Asian region could advantageously link up with China’s Belt and Road Initiative and even join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world’s largest trading bloc of 15 countries, accounting for 30% of its GDP, as a much-valued partner.

Way Forward

  • Bilateral trade should be the taken up openly without the political reasoning.
  • Joint military exercises could boost relations.
  • Ease of connectivity through air and land route.
  • External or third-party interference should be avoided as much as possible.
  • Briefing up the security at borders and sharing security intelligence would help fight the terrorist activities.

Conclusion

  • This is the moment for India to think big and act big by ambitiously aiming to engineer a South Asian economic miracle, similar to China’s rise in 1972.
  • India needs to view a peace with Pakistan not as a bilateral matter, to be arrived at leisurely, if at all, but as essential and urgent, all the while viewing it as a chance of a lifetime, to dramatically transform South Asia for the better, no less.
  • Recent ceasefire initiatives could help to restore South Asian identity of the India.

Back to Basics – About SAARC

  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia
  • Its member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  • SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 3.8% (US$2.9 trillion) of the global economy, as of 2015.
  • SAARC was founded in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
  • Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • The organization promotes development of economic and regional integration.
  • It launched the South Asian Free Trade Area in 2006.
  • SAARC maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.

Political Issues in SAARC

  • Lasting peace and prosperity in South Asia have been elusive because of the various ongoing conflicts in the region.
  • Political dialogue is often conducted on the margins of SAARC meetings which have refrained from interfering in the internal matters of its member states.
  • During the 12th and 13th SAARC summits, extreme emphasis was laid upon greater cooperation between the SAARC members to fight terrorism.
  • The 19th SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Pakistan was called off as India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan decided to boycott it.
  • It was for the first time that four countries boycotted a SAARC summit, leading to its cancellation.

India’s issues with SAARC

  1. SAARC’s future hangs in thread as Pakistan’s recalcitrance to act on terrorism has been a deal breaker.
  2. Connectivity with Afghanistan has been hampered due to lack of Pakistan’s cordial support.
  3. Air freight corridor cannot be sustainable in long term and also it will be unable to achieve the full potential of Indo- Afghan trade potentials.
  4. Chabahar port might fall prey to US-Iran escalations.
  5. Regular meetings need to happen, if this group has to become a driver in global economic setup.

-Source: The Hindu

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