Advancing Regional Cooperation in South Asia

Posted by Robert O. Blake
November 15, 2011
SAARC 17th Summit Closing Session in the Maldives

The beautiful turquoise water beckoned beneath our small airplane as the U.S. delegation descended into Addu Atoll, the southernmost point of the Maldives -- an island nation located in the center of the Indian Ocean. We arrived in Addu to participate in the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, a yearly gathering of the Heads of State from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The United States joined the organization as an Observer in 2007. Leadership of SAARC is a rotating responsibility among member states and -- as current SAARC Chair -- this year it is the Maldives' turn to host.

The countries of South Asia formed SAARC in 1985 to pursue regional economic cooperation and collectively address other areas of mutual interest. But pursuing common regional objectives has not been easy. Today, less than five per cent of all trade in South Asia occurs between SAARC members. This lack of integration has been a major obstacle to South Asia's economic growth.

However, a number of positive developments across South Asia offer significant hope. The United States has been extremely encouraged by the recent steps taken by the Governments of India and Pakistan to initiate closer trade and commercial ties. Increased economic linkages between India and Pakistan will create a natural foundation for a stronger bilateral relationship and -- most importantly -- yield dividends for citizens from both countries.

We were also buoyed by the historic 2010 transit trade agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition, numerous other bilateral agreements and outreach efforts between SAARC member capitals are beginning to blossom, a promising sign for a region home to over one-fifth of the world's population.

Although the next two days were a whirlwind of activity and meetings, we heard the same message repeated by all of the delegations again and again -- a desire to foster greater trade and opportunity among SAARC members. This vision of inter-connectivity is something the United States fully supports. During a speech in Chennai this summer, Secretary Clinton outlined the contours of just such a vision, calling for the creation of a New Silk Road linking the economies of South and Central Asia together in a web of investment, trade, transit, and people-to-people linkages.

The economic future of a more open and integrated South Asia is virtually unlimited, and as an established, home-grown institution SAARC is in a unique position to help. The United States, too, is ready to assist. That is why Secretary Clinton recently designated the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal as our lead U.S. official to SAARC.

Looking ahead, we will seek new ways to offer our resources and expertise to the countries of SAARC on education, cross-border energy linkages, economic reform, poverty alleviation, polio eradication, climate change, and more.

Comments

Comments

adri d.
|
Indonesia
November 15, 2011

Adri D. in Indonesia writes:

yea ...
but I think the Gospel is not a stranger
In India... there might be already Many Missionaries In that country ... And Pakistan Just might Follow Maybe..
Cause people will Follow if there is an example
So Continue on guys The Many The better right ?
Keep Spreading the word
God Bleeeess

ASHIM C.
|
India
November 16, 2011

Ashim C. in India writes:

SAARC CAN INDEED TRANSFORM SOUTH ASIA ECONOMICALLY AND THE REALISATION OF SILK ROUTE EARLY SHALL CERTAINLY HELP. THIS REGION HAS BOTH A LARGE POPULATION AND RICH RESOURCE BASE TO BE SELF SUFFICIENT AS A MANUFACTURING BASE, INDUSTRIAL GRADE AGICULTURE AND AGRO PROCESSING INDUSTRY. UNLIKE CHINA THIS REGION NEED NOT OVERLY DEPENDENT ON IMPORTS FOR MANUFACTURING AND FEEDING THE BOOMING POPULATION NOR BE DEPENDENT ON EXPORTS TO SUSTAIN MANUFACTURING. BUT THE REGION IS POTENTIALLY A BIG MARKET FOR A WIDE RANGE OF TECHNOLOGY IN ALL SECTORS OF ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES - HYDRO_POWER GENERATION, IT AND COMMUNICATION TO ROAD BUILDING, HOUSING, WATER MANAGEMENT, QUALITY EDUCATION AND SKILL DEVELOPMENT , HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE. THE LIST IS ENDLESS.

NOW ALL SECTORS NEED NOT GO FOR THE MOST AUTOMATED AND MECHANISED TECHNOLOGIES. RATHER CONSCIOUS EFFORTS SHOULD BE MADE TO IDENTIFY AREAS WHERE MANUAL LABOUR CAN DO AND OTHER AREAS WHERE SEMI MECHANISED AND MOST UPDATED AUTOMATION AND MECHANISATION WOULD BE RELEVENT WITH SUBTLE INNOVATIONS TO SUIT SPECIFIC LOCAL NEEDS. THIS INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES CAN COME FROM DEVELOPED COUNTRIES. INCLUSIVE GROWTH INITIATIVES, WHICH PEOPLE OF THIS REGION HAVE BEEN HEARING FOR QUITE SOMETIME NOW AND THOUGH CONCRETE PROGRAMMES TOO HAVE BEEN LAUNCHED - IN FOR EXAMPLE - INDIA, HAVE NOT YIELDED THE DESIRED RESULTS BECAUSE OF CORRUPTION AND DEFFICIENCIES IN DELIVERY. FORTUNATELY THERE HAS BEEN AN UPSURGE IN MOOD AGAINST CORRUPTION IN INDIA FOR EXAMPLE; IT IS NOT EASY TO MEASURE HOW MUCH DEPTH THAT HAS GOT BUT ONE WOULD LIKE TO BE BELIEVE THAT MEDIA ACTIVISM WOULD MAKE UP FOR LACK OF REAL DEPTH. THIS UPSURGE HAS CERTAINLY CREATED CONDITIONS FOR CLEANSING POLITICS AND ADMINISTRATION FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE AND DELIVERY.

SOUTH ASIA IS PLURALISTIC. WHILE THIS PLURALISM IS CELEBRATED; THAT CELEBRATION IS GETTING STRETCHED FAR TOO MUCH. FOR EXAMPLE THERE IS A MUSHROOM GROWTH OF POLITICAL PARTIES FOR EACH REGION, LINGUSTIC, CASTE GROUPS IN INDIA, WHICH IS WEAKENING THE CENTRAL AUTHORITY AND BREEDING DELAYS AND INEFFICIENCIES IN DECISION MAKING. AND THESE MANY POLITICAL PARTIES ARE NOT DIFFERENT FROM SAY INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS OR BJP - THE TWO NATIONAL MAINSTREAM PARTIES IN TERMS OF THE IDEOLOGIES GOAL AND METHOD. ONE'S SENSE IS THAT THIS SITUATION PREVAILS IN MOST PARTS OF SOUTH ASIA.

CLEARLY, GOOD DEMOCRACY DEMANDS THAT SYSTEMATIC CHANGES ARE REQUIRED FOR CHANGING THE ARCHITECTURE OF DEMOCRACY IN SAARC COUNTRIES TO GIVE PEOPLE THE BENEFIT OF GLOBALISATION. GLABALISATION IMPLIES INCLUSIVE UPLIFTMENT OF PEOPLE TO CREATE MORE DEMAND FOR ALL KINDS OF GOODS AND SERVICES AND ALSO THOROUGH OPENING UP DEVELOPING COUNTRIES FOR COOPERATION BETWEEN DEVELOPING AND DEVELOPED COUNTRIES BASED ON MUTUAL RESPECT FOR EACH OTHERS NEED.

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