Rising interest in South Asian regional grouping: Eurasia Review

“The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is not a shining model of regional cooperation,” writes Shastri Ramachandran for the Eurasia Review.

“It is seen as a talking shop – of a region that accounts for the largest population of the poor – with lofty goals, high-sounding resolutions, ringing declarations and little by way of achievement.

Hence, the increased international interest in SAARC – with more countries wanting to become observers, and observers aspiring to full membership – is surprising and flattering. Perhaps, this is because of South Asia’s rising geopolitical importance.

The eight-member body (comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), whose foreign ministers met in Maldives in February, has nine observers: China, Japan, South Korea, Myanmar, Australia, Iran, Mauritius, the European Union and the United States. There are others, such as Turkey, asking to be made observers. More observers might lead to a situation where they overwhelm the primary members; and influence the agenda.

One country, raring to become a full member, is China. And, predictably, a powerful section of ‘official’ India is opposed to it. It is in this context that External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s call, in Male on February 21, for ‘institutional reform within SAARC’ needs to be viewed.”

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