The organization has failed to sparkle so far only because of India-Pakistan enmity
These days the world tends think of Europe as a single entity â€” almost a state. That is because of the existence of the European Union which itself perpetuates the notion. It was not always so. If there was one thing, up until not too long, that the Europeans proved they could do better than anyone else in the world, it was kill each other. In the last century, well over 100 million people were died in wars and persecutions in Europe.
It was because of that that the forerunner of the EU, the European Economic Community, was created. In the ashes of World War II, there was a determination that never again should Europe’s nations fight each other. The EEC was designed to end rivalries and in their place ensure collaboration and cooperation.
Many Europeans today complain about the power EU exerts over the 27 member states. But it has worked brilliantly not only in ensuring that it is the world’s largest economy and its citizens have the highest standards of living but also in keeping the peace in Europe and helping resolve national differences. Northern Ireland is an example of that. With both the UK and Ireland members of the EU, there was a relationship of equals that enabled the two to work together as partners to deal with the well nigh unbridgeable divide in the province. Inevitably because of its success, the EU is a model that has been copied elsewhere with varying degrees of success, notably the GCC, but also bodies such as the African Union and the Union of South American Nations.
One replica that has so far failed to sparkle is the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), comprising India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Maldives and Bhutan. Created 26 years ago, it has failed because of the enduring rivalry between its two most important members, India and Pakistan.
The economies of South Asia have so much in common and everything to gain from collaboration. But it all depends on the two most important members. Just as France and Germany were the motors that drove the former EEC, India and Pakistan should be the motors that drive SAARC. At the moment, they are the spanner in the works.
The view is that there cannot be stable economic bonds between them until their political differences are settled. That is the wrong way round. It is like saying that until the Israeli-Palestinian issue is resolved, Arab states cannot deal with their own political problems. That mantra is currently being proved false. So too is the one about India and Pakistan. If they have had strong commercial links and were members of a dynamic economic community, it would dissolve their political antagonisms as well as help them resolve political issues like Kashmir.
This does not need to be a pipe dream. Last week’s cricket diplomacy showed that there is so much that unites the two countries. At people-to-people level, the two nations embraced each other. The problems are at government level. Later this month, India’s Commerce Secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai will have talks in Islamabad with his Pakistani counterpart Zaffar Mehmood. The aim is to resume trade dialogue, at a standstill since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.The best thing that could come out of this meeting is a commitment to make SAARC work.