Regional cooperation is more effective in ensuring stability than puppet regimes. South Asia took a significant step towards this end by making Afghanistan the eight member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, SAARC, at their annual meeting in Dhaka on the 13th of November.
SAARC was established in 1985 as a forum to work on mutually beneficial issues. It has proved viable at certain aspects of multilateral cooperation in the region by avoiding politically divisive issues like Kashmir and internal concerns like the LTTE. The association has also served as a forum for talks on these matters on the sidelines.
It is an eclectic body, with democracies, republics, monarchies and dictatorships. It’s member nations comprise a fifth of the world’s population, half the world’s poor, and a sizeable market for the world’s goods. Interest in the body is growing after a hiatus in the late nineties and the end of the Cold War. Both Iran and China have expressed a desire to be members, and China and Japan were admitted as observers in Dhaka this year.
SAARC has also pledged to bring to fruition a free-trade agreement with tariffs between zero and 5% by 2016, with significant steps by Jan 1, 2006. Regional trade cooperation has lagged behind the EU and ASEAN, primarily due to the long-standing issues between Pakistan and India, the largest members.
“Regional economic co-operation in South Asia has remained far behind the more successful examples in both Asia and other regions of the world,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the summit.
“If our region wishes to be a part of the dynamic Asia, which is emerging in our neighborhood, then we must act and act speedily without any further loss of time.”
Afghanistan’s entry into SAARC will likely enable easier access to the landlocked country and looser trade barriers.
The leaders unanimously demanded that an Asian should be appointed as the next Secretary General of the United Nations.
King Gyanendra of Nepal also assured Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of a rapid return to multi-party democracy. He dismissed his government earlier this year after they failed to control the Maoist uprisings plaguing the country.