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‘Functional SAARC viable for regional cooperation’: Nepalese scholar

A functional SAARC is a viable option for regional cooperation and progress for the South Asian belt. And will provide a stronger “bargaining power” for the member countries against non-member states while forging new relations.
These were some of the views shared by Dr. Yuburaj Sangroula, a Nepalese scholar on international law visiting Pakistan, at an exclusive talk on “Changing regional scenario and cooperation among South Asian countries,” hosted by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad based think-tank.
Dr. Sangroula discussed that many South Asian countries were entering into new relations with China, individually. Because these countries do not a singular voice through platforms like SAARC, China has to deal with them separately. This situation is not favorable for either China or SAARC. He asked that while “we [the South Asian countries] are all working in the same direction individually,why don’t we work together?” He wondered as to why integration seems so improbably despite cultural similarities.
To represent a united front, Dr. Sangroula suggested making SAARC a functional body which will improve the relations of these countries with China. China has already offered generous proposals of development in this region; China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being a prime example. Furthermore, China is also investing in other countries including Nepal and Bangladesh. In light of these developments Dr. Sangroula wondered why this region was not focusing on integration and instead furthering divisions among themselves.
Dr. Sangroula further suggested that to make SAARC functional steps had to be taken to engage the people of South Asia, especially the academic, journalist and think-tank communities. He said that it was important to engage in a constructive dialogue with each other in order to reach a common conclusion. He envisioned SAARC be made a “people’s association” which serves as a complimentary institution to the existing bilateral and multilateral forums. He pointed that the SAARC Charter itself is hindering integration as it has made SAARC a community of South Asian states rather than of the people.
The session was chaired by former foreign secretary InamulHaq, who mentioned that it appears China wants regional and inter-regional cooperation, as evident from the One-Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. He called upon to focus on domestic issues first, than on regional issues.
Meanwhile, PIPS’ director Muhammad Amir Rana reminded that only recently have attempts been made to disconnect Pakistan from South Asia, when Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and India refused to participate in SAARC summit in Pakistan and therefore he called upon resolving this complex issue.