Modi’s swearing-in offers new lease of life to SAARC

By inviting leaders of all the SAARC countries, and representatives from all the countries attending the event, the PMs swearing in ceremony has indirectly become a SAARC summit.

Krishna Uppuluri/ Zee Research Group

By inviting leaders of all the SAARC countries, and representatives from all the countries attending the event, the PMs swearing in ceremony has indirectly become a SAARC summit.

The official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Syed Akbaruddin, confirmed on Saturday that Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom will attend the ceremony.

Bangladesh will be represented by Parliament Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be away on a pre-scheduled visit to Japan on May 26.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif confirmed on Saturday that he will be attending the ceremony.

With Nawaz Sharif also coming, the swearing in ceremony has in a way become a SAARC summit.
Established in 1985, SAARC or South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is a group of eight countries including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. They all are neighbor countries that share a lot of similarities in terms of religion and culture.

In its election manifesto the party had stated that, ‘BJP believes that political stability, progress and peace in the region are essential for South Asia`s growth and development.’

The manifesto also stated, ‘In our neighborhood we will pursue friendly relations. However, where required we will not hesitate from taking strong stand and steps. We will work towards strengthening Regional forums like SAARC.’

In one of his election campaign speeches, Modi had mentioned about making South-Asia the business hub of the continent.

India occupies 70% of the SAARC region, both geographically and economically.
“India’s foreign policy should begin in its immediate neighborhood and so it is a good thing that Modi has invited leaders of the SAARC countries,” said Srinath Raghavan, Senior Fellow at Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi.

“Modi will have to take the initiative to carefully balance interests of Tamils in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, see to it that there is a smooth transition of government in Nepal and carefully handle the Teesta water agreement with Bangladesh besides other regional issues,” said Srinath.

“In the last several years, within SAARC, there has been a kind of stagnation. Since its establishment the grouping has just somehow survived,” said P Sahadevan, Professor, Centre for South Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

“There should be integration in the economy like European Union has done with the Euro. There should be a more liberalized policy in people to people contact among the citizens of the member states,” Sahadevan said.
“In the next five years Modi-led NDA government should try to get out of the mould that SAARC is in right now, and produce some kind of result which is significant,” Sahadevan said.

Experts have articulated the need for India to lead the way in SAARC by some out of box thinking. They aver that south Asia is one of the least economically integrated regions of the world. Intra-regional trade is just about five per cent of total official trade of India.

In contrast, Raghavan articulated intra-regional trade in East Asia accounted for over 50 per cent of total trade. The current situation in South Asia seems all the more stark when we set it against its past record as well as its future potential. In the context of the continuing economic downturn in the West, India could become rather more important to its neighbors, he argued.

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