The resurrection of SAARC — India leads the way

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with NSA Ajit Doval and External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar/ Image: Twitter

SAARC, termed as a dead horse, has shown green shoots of a revival thanks to the initiatives taken by India

SAARC -a new lease of life

Ever since the cancellation of the SAARC summit which was proposed to held in Islamabad in October 2016 due to non-participation of India owing to the diabolical attack on an army base in Uri in September 2016 allegedly orchestrated by the Pakistani deep state, SAARC went into the ICU, with no credible meeting looking possible between the heads of the South Asian countries in the near future.

 Meanwhile, India began prioritizing the BIMSTEC to strengthen its naval outreach in the Bay of Bengal region to primarily circumvent Pakistan in the process convinced the top honchos in the foreign policy establishment of the South Asian governments that SAARC will rest in peace, however, the COVID-19 pandemic looked like a blessing in disguise as far as the revival of the beleaguered body is concerned. India took the lead in galvanizing the countries in its neighbourhood to marshal their resources in their fight against a virus which so far has wreaked havoc around the world, leaving millions of people jobless, thousands dead and billions of people confined to their homes to escape the scourge of the deadly pandemic.

Read: COVID-19: India’s Regional Diplomacy In The Neighbourhood: A Case For Engaging With Myanmar

The Modi government saw the raison d’etre behind the recent videoconference with the heads of the SAARC states for combating the pandemic may be the best possible way to revive the defunct body which has been held hostage to bilateral tensions and vested interests. India even contributed a sum of $ 10 million to fight the COVID-19 to the SAARC relief fund. India also formed a formidable medical taskforce to pledge a common fight against the virus. The SAARC framework was further strengthened when India airlifted through a C-130 Super Hercules 6.2 tonnes of medical drugs to the Maldives, besides this numerous naval ships and medical teams have been kept on standby to assist our neighbours in a common fight. India’s efforts in the region may seem small but offer a contrast to the developed world’s lack of collaboration and cooperation. New Delhi deserves credit for not just marshalling its resources to tackle the current pandemic but for the groundwork for the future in suggesting common SAARC pandemic protocols and setting up common research platform on epidemics.

Viruses recognize no national boundaries and the porous borders of south Asia demand coordinated action to halt the spread of disease in each nation to protect the population. India has to do more to mobilize its technological capability in testing and development of vaccines and cures.

Pakistan SAARC Kashmir
Pakistan plays Kashmir card in SAARC video conference

Pakistan- elephant in the room

But as usual, Pakistan was back with its old recalcitrant ways determined to wreck the nascent chance of recovery for this intra-South Asian grouping which found breathing space. The fact that Pakistan found it convenient to raise the issue of lifting the lockdown imposed in the union territory of J&K following the abrogation of Article 370 in August last year showed its ulterior motives to highjack a potentially game-changing step taken to India to address the issues plaguing South Asia showed its hollow leadership apparatus and lack of empathy for the world suffering from the global pandemic.

Although it was understandable that given the chronic economic problems they were facing they could not contribute to the relief fund, but the Pakistani army and the government for the time being should avoid such fiascos which have imposed a heavy cost on its populace at large.

Modi with Jaishankar and Foreign Secretary
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar and Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla/ Image: Twitter

What is the road ahead?

The Sars-Cov-2 pandemic has brought into the limelight the extraordinary might of human spirit, humanity is at the greatest peril from this invisible enemy, the need of the hour to not only strengthen the spirit of humanity but also to promote the very nature of brotherhood, in this context when multilateral institutions like the UN, European Union, ASEAN, NATO are at a loss of how to deal with the imminent doom that the pandemic brings, the situation is a fit case for SAARC to take the lead in teaching the world how to remain resilient.

Steps can be taken include- ramping up country-wise cooperation in finding medical breakthroughs for the pandemic, ensuring that the supply chain of essential commodities such as food, medicines, life-saving equipment does not get disrupted, promoting cross country institutional collaboration to help contain the fallout of the pandemic, developing a sovereign SAARC fund to jointly pool fiscal resources to help cushion the impact of the economic shock emanating from the pandemic.

Despite SAARC’s dismal past, Modi has boldly stroked new hope for the future of SAARC. Modi is widely seen as a reformist prime minister, who is expected to quickly rise to any occasion to display global leadership.  In addition, agreements stemming from visits to neighbouring countries reveal a certain line of thinking – cooperation targeted at resolving shared problems.  It is therefore logical that the government would seek similar opportunities to expand and deepen the engagement with SAARC. Modi has thrown down the gauntlet that “South Asian countries should identify specific areas of convergence for common heritage, challenges and opportunities to foster intra-South Asian cooperation in general and global cooperation in particular.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Pranay Kumar Shome

Pranay Kumar Shome is pursuing his honours degree in International Relations from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He can be reached at pranayshome1999@gmail.com

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