Q Why is it in News ?
A A meeting of foreign ministers from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, which was set to be held in New York has been cancelled.
Q What is SAARC , what are its main functions ?
- 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.
- The SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 4.21% (US$3.67 trillion) of the global economy, as of 2019.
- The 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.
- The SAARC maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.
Q What is the reason behind formation of SAARC ?
- After the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the security situation in South Asia rapidly deteriorated. In response, the foreign ministers of the initial seven members met in Colombo in 1981.
- At the meeting, Bangladesh proposed forming a regional association that would meet to discuss matters such as security and trade.
- While most of the countries present were in favour of the proposal, India and Pakistan were sceptical.
- Eventually, both countries relented and in 1983 in Dhaka, joined the other five nations in signing the Declaration.
Q What has SAARC done so far ?
- Despite its lofty ambitions, SAARC has not become a regional association in the mould of the European Union or the African Union.
- Its member states are plagued by internal divisions, most notably the conflict between India and Pakistan.
- This in turn has hampered its ability to form comprehensive trade agreements or to meaningfully collaborate on areas such as security, energy and infrastructure.
- The 18th and last SAARC summit was held in 2014 with Pakistan scheduled to host the 19th summit in 2016.
- Many nations pulled out of the summit, citing fears of regional insecurity caused by Pakistan and a lack of a conducive environment for the talks.
Q What are the achievements of SAARC ?
- Despite these setbacks, SAARC has achieved a modicum of success.
- It has provided a platform for representatives from member countries to meet and discuss important issues, something that may have been challenging through bilateral discussions.
- India and Pakistan for example would struggle to publicly justify a meeting when tensions between the two are particularly high, but representatives from both countries could come together under the banner of SAARC.
- The bloc has also made some headway in signing agreements related to climate change, food security and combatting the Covid-19 crisis.
- It has the potential to do far more but that is contingent upon cooperation on key issues between member states.
Q Why was the recent meet cancelled?
A. Pakistan’s insistence to include the Taliban
- The member states are unable to agree upon the participation of Afghanistan, with Pakistan and India in particular at loggerheads over the issue.
- After Pakistan objected to the participation of any official from the previous Ghani administration, SAARC members reportedly agreed to keep an “empty chair” as a symbolic representation of Afghanistan.
- However, Islamabad later insisted that the Taliban be allowed to send its representative to the summit, a notion that all of the other member states rejected.
- After no consensus could be formed, Nepal, the ‘host’ of the summit, officially cancelled the meeting.
Q Why did countries object?
A. Taliban is not a legitimate govt
- The Taliban has not been recognised as the official government of Afghanistan by any SAARC countries barring Pakistan.
- Several top Taliban leaders are blacklisted by the US and/or designated as international terrorists.
- Senior leaders who are not blacklisted are known for supporting terrorist activities or affiliating with terrorist organisations.
- Allowing Taliban to represent Afghanistan in SAARC would legitimise the group and serve as a formal recognition of their right to govern.
- Apart from Pakistan, which has close ties to the Taliban, particularly its violent subgroup, the Haqqani Network, none of the other SAARC members recognise the Taliban.
Q Why nations should not recognize the Taliban?
- PM Modi has referred to the Taliban as a non-inclusive government, warning other nations to think before accepting the regime in Afghanistan.
- SAARC members are deeply aware of the threat of spillover terrorism from Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, with Bangladesh in particular, concerned with the effect it may have on extremism.
- Developments in Afghanistan could lead to uncontrolled flow of drugs, illegal weapons and human trafficking.
- With Pakistan headfast in its support for the Taliban and the rest of SAARC weary to acknowledge the group, any future summit is unlikely until the issue has been resolved.