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SAARC & Beyond Civil Society and Regional Integration in South Asia

Navnita Chadha Behera

Introduction
South Asia is at a turning point. Powered by the dynamic growth of Indian economy, it is the fastest growing region in the world. South Asia can be propelled faster to find its rightful place in the world if its member states develop as an integrated economy. This would make South Asia the second largest economy in the world after China, leaving behind even the United States.1 The stakes for regional economic integration are clearly high and its prospects are bright. The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia has evolved in three broad phases. In 1978, the Committee for Studies on Cooperation in Development (CSCD) led by the erudite and visionary Tarlok Singh first took this initiative.2 Much before the proposition of creating a regional organization for South Asian countries was floated at the official level; the CSCD was involved in conceptualizing the idea of a South Asian community as well as spelling out its actual economic possibilities. The inter-governmental body of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was subsequently born in 1985.3 The first phase proved to be a battle for sheer survival. India perceived it as an attempt by the smaller neighbors to gang-up against it, while the latter especially Pakistan feared that India would use it as a vehicle to impose its hegemony in the region. As a result, SAARC achieved little. It shunned cooperation in the hard core economic areas of money, finance, trade and manufacturing by “political choice”.4 The inability of the governments led the civil society in South Asia to take the lead during the second phase in the 1990s. This period spawned a wide range of non-official dialogues involving intellectuals, journalists, parliamentarians, environmental activists, artists, writers, women and human rights groups. SAARC remained a ‘talking shop’, richly endowed with declaratory achievements with little progress on the ground but a growing sense of South Asian consciousness began to take root among the attentive public and politically conscious segments of the regional civil society in the region. These processes hit a roadblock in 1999 when the Kargil war between India and Pakistan followed by the military

coup in Islamabad caused a deadlock at SAARC and even vitiated the atmosphere of nonofficial dialogues. The South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) in 2004 imparted a new momentum heralding the third phase of the SAARC’s evolution when it first began to seriously focus on the goal of regional economic integration. Several developments have brought about this change. There is a resurgence of interest in SAARC among the South Asian states especially India. The civil society initiatives have acquired certain autonomy and a new dynamism. The private sector is emerging as an important stakeholder. And, major powers including China, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and US among others are showing a keen participatory interest in the SAARC process. The convergence of these factors has opened a new window of opportunity, which if utilized, can catapult South Asia to become a key player in the world economy. This paper begins by briefly discussing the changing political, economic and social landscape of South Asia, which is transforming the state from within and without. It then analyzes various stakeholders, their interests, objectives and strategies for reinvigorating the official SAARC process and bring about regional integration. The paper debates the value, efficacy and contribution of such efforts and concludes with a brief discussion on the lessons learnt and recommendations for various players.

Changing Socio-Political Landscape of South Asia
South Asian states are undergoing a fundamental transformation. Every state has faced growing challenges to its central authority from political mobilizations of ethnic and religious groups, dalits and other marginalized sections of the society. At the core of such ethnopolitical conflicts are issues about state power and the distribution of economic and other material resources. The settlement of these conflicts has entailed a political process of negotiating how to radically alter the way in which state power is organized and distributed, which in turn, is resulting in democratization of political community, pluralization of state and sharing of state sovereignty.5 This is evident from several developments across the region. These include: overthrowing of the Nepalese monarchy and setting up of its Constituent Assembly to coin a new constitution; Bhutanese King’s democratization of its polity; Indian State’s experiments of devising intermediary state structures and institutionalizing Panchayati Raj as the mandatory third level of governance; the Sri Lankan leadership’s attempts to alter the unitary

character of its state to end the Tamil strife; and, India and Pakistan’s efforts to resolve the protracted conflict in Kashmir by exploring ideas of a soft border across the Line-of-Control. This fundamental shift in the interface between state and society is resulting in a gradual albeit inevitable dispersal of state authority and growing assertions of civil society in matters of governance. The politics of the civil society in the region, therefore, involves the contestation of “subordination and conformity of citizens to the state’s sovereignty,” to seeking a “negotiated social contract,” and “socializing the citizens towards democratic principles, means and solidarity for a peaceful transformation of the public space.”6 In contrast to the South Asia’s ruling elites who believe in national assertiveness, civil societies are fostering a regional consciousness and collective identity. At the same time, economic societies of the region are being transformed by the market-driven forces of globalization which are undermining the state boundaries as also weakening the state from within. They also seek economic integration of South Asia but their agenda is shaped by the “pre-state needs for capital, labor, infrastructure development and transport and civilization imperatives than post-state democratic needs such as human security, environmental protection, social justice and peaceful resolution of conflict.”7 This has spurred some sections of the civil society to mobilize against their neo-liberal agenda and demand an inclusive economic growth that benefits all sections of the society and to ensure that state does not abdicate its social responsibilities towards the people. The challenge for a new South Asia to emerge lies in transforming this contestation between the state, market and civil society into a partnership so they can work together for the common good of all its citizens.

Stakeholders
There are three primary stakeholders in this process: governments, civil society and the private sector.

Governments SAARC is an inter-governmental body and therefore, governments will remain the primary vehicle to bring about regional integration in South Asia. The key question is: what are their stakes? It evokes different answers from every South Asian government and a deeper inquiry into ‘why’ do they seek this goal and ‘how’ do they strategize to achieve it, yields further qualified responses that are important to understand.

As the largest country in South Asia that accounts for more than 80% of the region’s GDP, India is committed to make SAARC a success story. The change in its strategy is a product of greater confidence on account of its growing strategic importance and a vibrant and burgeoning economy. A resurgent India’s leadership understands that India can no longer be held back and the world will engage with India irrespective of its neighbors. Major powers’ acceptance of India’s dominant position in the region denies the neighbors especially Pakistan any room to try counter-balancing India. The growing Chinese influence is of concern to India as bilateral trade between some of the South Asian economies and China exceed than that with India but this has become another reason for India to strengthen SAARC.8 India’s contribution as an engine of growth in South Asia is also transforming its image from being that of a threat to an opportunity among its neighbors.9 There is a realization in India too, as India’s Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh explains: “India cannot prosper and progress without its neighbouring countries also prospering, and progressing, in equal measure . . . [and] historically the South Asian region has flourished the most when it has been connected to itself, and to the rest of the world.”10 India’s credibility is also at stake. Free trade agreements are the new pillars of India’s economic diplomacy. India has signed bilateral free trade agreements with Sri Lanka (1999), Thailand (2004) and Singapore (2005). It is negotiating such agreements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral and Technical Cooperation Free Trade Area (BIMSTEC), the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), the South African Customs Union (SACU), and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Joint Study Groups have also been set up with China, Chile, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and even European Union and United States to explore the feasibility of establishing a free trade area. The slow progress under SAFTA is being closely observed and may, in fact, come in the way of its regional trading engagement with the rest of the world.11 It’s therefore in India’s interest to invigorate SAARC trade and accelerate the process of regional economic integration. India’s commitment to SAARC is borne out by its resolve to “contribute to regional prosperity in a non-reciprocal asymmetric manner.”12 India has opened its markets to its neighbours by providing zero duty access to the Less Developed Countries (LDCs) from January 1, 2008 and has unilaterally reduced its negative list to 500 with respect to exports from these countries. It has committed US $100 million to the SAARC Development Fund’s Social Window and has taken the lead in improving physical interconnectivity and forging transport integration in the region. It hosted the first SAARC Transport Ministers Meeting in

It didn’t want to be perceived as blocking SAFTA in the eyes of the smaller neighbors especially when it was getting . India’s political commitment for non-reciprocal concessions. India’s neighbours. So. At the same time. seek access to the Indian market and would like to gain from India’s dynamic economic growth but are also nervous of India’s growing footprint in their own economies lest it proves to be an overwhelming experience. Pakistan’s record on SAFTA illustrates the point. Maldives and now. however. they allow political fears to dictate their economic choices and inevitably end up losing the dividends they would derive from the integration of the region. Sri Lanka.13 SAARC partner countries also find the costs of their exports prohibitive on account of India’s interstate taxes imposed on movement of goods. Bhutan. to operationalize seamless travel between the member states. caught in a dilemma. India needs to show generosity of a different kind to achieve this goal. they tend to view their commitment to SAARC through the prism of their bilateral relations with India respectively. too late. They support regional economic integration. thus. Others believe that India’s US $100 million contribution to the SAARC Development Fund is too little. They are. Indian Prime Minister had announced the unilateral liberalisation of Indian visa for students. it is argued. They draw upon the Great Eminent Persons (GEP) Report’s suggestion to allocate US$ 10-15 billion for creation of such a fund through which the LDCs can be integrated or brought up to a level where they feel that they are also taking advantage of opportunities presented by integration. feel that it needs to do much more. Nepal. Afghanistan—have a stake in SAARC process without which they would have to engage their largest and most powerful neighbour in an unequal bilateral terrain. Pakistan and indeed every South Asian state—Bangladesh. which deliberated on the SAARC Regional Multimodal Transport Study and circulated a draft Motor Vehicles and a draft Railways Agreement among SAARC members before the Colombo summit in August 2008. It started the teleeducation project for linking the Indira Gandhi National Open University to other Open Universities within the SAARC region and a tele-medicine project connecting superspeciality hospitals within SAARC member states. India proposed and is now hosting the South Asian University that is expected to become operational by 2010. teachers. is often not honoured by its bureaucratic establishment. In the socio-cultural domain.August 2007. As a result. which has got underway with the commencement of the India-Bhutan and India-Sri Lanka linkages. however. India imposes the maximum non-tariff barriers in the region and uses non-tariff and para-tariff barriers to nullify any concessions offered on other counts. journalists and patients from SAARC countries at the 2007 summit in New Delhi.

17 India’s free trade agreements with Sri Lanka and Nepal have been an incentive for Indian companies to invest in these countries. Bhutan is exporting 1500MW power to India.e. And.16 Clearly. to reject the TATAs investment proposal for $ 3 billion to establish power. Almost half is traded through third countries such as Dubai. The FTA led to reducing Sri Lanka’s trade deficit with India from 11:1 in 1999 to 5:1 in 2002.18 Sri Lanka is today India’s largest trade partner in the SAARC region. Singapore. Sri Lanka’s exports to India accounted for 3. Sri Lanka had received Indian investments of about $1 billion. 84.concerned at being bypassed through sub-regional cooperation initiatives such as the BIMSTECH.14 India’s informal trade with Pakistan is worth $2 billion and it is almost ten times than that of their formal trade in the region.15 A recent study by the Asian Development Bank in 2006 estimates that if a liberal trade regime was established between India and Pakistan today the volume of trade would go as high at $10 billion. Notwithstanding the economic arguments of non-availability of surplus natural gas and differences over its price determination and so on as reasons given in public for indecision on or rejection of the offer. All three have free trade agreements with India and this has helped improve their own economic performance and growth. So.9 percent of its population and 86 percent of its total exports. within a year of implementation of their FTA.6% of overall exports in 2002 in comparison to 1999 when these amounted to only 1% of overall exports.” Significantly. it signed SAFTA but subsequently. the CIS countries and Afghanistan. it’s buying back the output. Bhutan and to some extent. steel and fertilizer plants in Bangladesh were motivated by political factors. thus excluding the largest segment of trade in the region i. the real reason was that the government in power in Bangladesh did not want “to be seen to be coming too close to India in the economic field. between India and Pakistan from the SAFTA process. India has made huge investments in hydro electrical projects in Bhutan and. India and Pakistan together share 90 percent of the GDP of the region. refused to apply its provisions to India. Pakistan’s decision effectively rendered the regional economic integration ab initio a non-starter in South Asia. Pakistan has consistently refused to grant the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India because its ruling establishment links the issue of open trade to the resolution of the Kashmir conflict. resulting in a 17% increase in its GDP. However. while the remainder is through cross border informal trade. Bangladesh’s decision to deny transit facilities to India and more recently. A large part of manufacturing capacity in Nepal was created under the stimulus of free trade. Sri Lanka. and . Nepal present the other side of the story. Likewise. there is a strong logic for more liberal trade between the two countries as both will gain substantially.

It is an amalgam of stakeholders ranging from eminent South Asian intellectuals to think tanks. social movements and peoples organisations to come together and mobilize popular support for issues of common concern and public good. minorities and tribes. Their realization that the local power structures. They raise fundamentally important issues concerning the possibilities of imagining an alternative political community and forging new solidarities. The challenge for South Asia. which they are fighting in their respective areas. linguistic. NGOs. these have been in response to the national and global crisis which can no longer be understood. Research institutes and think tanks are best placed to work out alternative policy options for their respective governments and various SAARC bodies. ecology. civil society in South Asia is not a unified entity.the total volume of their trade stands at almost USD 3. explained or resolved within a state-centric paradigm. drawn from across the social spectrum and from across regional. India is the third largest destination of Sri Lankan exports while India is the fourth largest investor in Sri Lanka. have been active in peace and anti-nuclear armaments. activist groups and grassroots networks. in the environment movement. Their stakes and contribution for fostering a South Asian community varies accordingly. networks and social movements in the past two decades. in the women's movements. What is different in the 21st century—the era of globalization—is a growing awareness among these intellectuals and activists about the vertical linkages between their life-situations and global economic power structures and the country's elites. derive their power vertically from the macro . South Asia has witnessed an exponential growth of civil society organizations. which act in ways that transcend the boundaries of states working to promote international collaboration irrespective of state policies. research institutions. in the movements for autonomy and self determination of cultural groups. By and large. Critical inputs for a new understanding of such issues are indeed emerging from social movements that are often focused on local issues but sensitive to the wider picture. NGOs play an active role in civic mobilization and policy advocacy and are most effective in their chosen spheres of action such as human rights. The civil society networks provide an umbrella platform for many such NGOs. rights of women and children and so on.3 billion in 2007. cultural and even national boundaries. Indian Prime Minister Dr Singh rightly points out is to “extrapolate this win-win economic relationship throughout the region. highly educated and skilled. activist groups.”19 Civil society Unlike SAARC. A large population of such social activists.

the private enterprise and business associations are setting the pace in transforming regional relationships and establishing the institutional . These include South Asia Chambers of Commerce and Industry (SCCI). It aims to create a People’s Union of South Asia. Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) and South Asia Centre for Policy Studies (SACEPS) are prominent examples of this phenomenon. It is indeed imperative to make the people of South Asia a primary stakeholder in the SAARC process because “regionalism can become self-sustaining only when it enjoys the support of the people. South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA). religion. has increased their stakes to forge post-national regional constellations. SAARC Law. positioning them as the leading intellectual stakeholders for South Asia’s regional integration. ethnicity.”20 Private Sector The private sector is emerging as an important stakeholder for regional economic integration. In addition. Their regional character naturally determines their research agenda and activities. socio-economic and cultural system in the region and seeks to do away with discrimination of gender. these are autonomous organisations and some also receive financial support the SAARC Secretariat and directly service the official SAARC process. there is a rapid growth in the number of SAARC apex bodies that specialize in different spheres. In the wider arena of civil society. The intelligentsia in South Asia is also actively engaged in this process and nonofficial dialogues between intellectuals. South Asian Federation of Accountants (SAFA) and Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL).structures of the prevalent national and international order. Peoples SAARC is an important regional initiative. caste. journalists. This is evident from the incipient yet distinct shift from the traditional-style collaborative research projects between ‘national’ research institutes giving way to the ‘regional ownership’ of research organisations. Conscious of the enormous potential of intra-regional trade and increasing importance of regional economic blocs in global trading. identity rivalries by creating a new identity of ‘South Asia citizenship’. Characterized as Track One-and-Half. research analysts and scholars have matured in the past two decades.” and that is why “the feeling that regionalism is beneficial to all South Asian countries has to permeate to the grassroots level. free movement of people and a new mode of human engagement. opening up new possibilities of an alternative political. and they see benefit in it.

automobile tyres. Second. Though every government had. no doubt. India’s informal trade with Nepal and Bangladesh is almost as large as formal trade. interested in exploring export opportunities in the EU and the US markets though they are keen to boost intra-regional trade in particular sectors.21 Much like India and Pakistan. it is a natural votary for minimal state intervention in the market forces but in certain sectors such as the textiles. In Pakistan too. textile and garments. the private sector in India is. the large-scale movements of people across borders in search of better livelihood and the resultant integration of the labour markets of South Asia have undercut the barriers of national boundaries. at times. the private sector is also a plural entity with diverse and. small machinery and tools are opposed to liberalizing trade. At the macro level. the business community is divided on the issue of enhancing trade relations with India. they were conspicuously absent in the formal negotiations over SAFTA. Those who are in favour of trade. Meanwhile the official trade barriers are being circumvented by the rising volumes of informal trade. young professionals. it’s not in the driver’s seat. Such informal trade is serviced by an increasingly efficient informal capital market. industrial chemicals. the macro and sectoral level interests of the private sector are distinct. Total informal trade in the South Asian region is estimated about US $ 3 billion which is almost double the formal trade in the region for corresponding years for which informal trade estimates are available. First. operating outside the purview of the monetary authorities. and efficient industries. by and large. In the South Asian context. industrial houses seek state protection from global competition. include the large and medium-sized traders. is important to understand certain special features of the private sector. Like the civil society. which finances $2 to 3 billion worth intraregional transactions in goods and services.22 Third factor pertains to the private sector’s choice of institutional mechanism for influencing their respective governments and the internal equations between different Chambers of . SAARC is increasingly facing pressure from the private sector to remove barriers to allow market integration.framework for regional cooperation and networks. even divergent interests. Along with this. the latter are yet to be accorded a seat on the negotiating table. The traditional traders whose businesses will suffer from Indian competition and goods such as the two-wheeler scooters. with Sri Lanka it is almost one-third of formal trade and that with Bhutan is three times as much as formal trade. While the market is an important driver pushing for regional economic integration. Notwithstanding the well-established practices of including representatives of private sector in the official delegations of governments during crucial trade negotiations. consulted the corporate leaders in devising their respective negative lists.

cross border movement of goods and people. they seek to provide a second line of communication between different states and seek to bridge the gap between official government positions by serving as ‘testing grounds’ for new policy . it’s officially recognized by all the governments as well as the SAARC Secretariat. Three broad. government officials. strategies have been employed to achieve these objectives.23 The SCCI meetings continue to be attended largely by academics. Intervening at the Top First school of thought advocates influencing the policy making processes in SAARC and individual governments at the top level. Instruments and Strategies Various institutions and players involved in this exercise seek to influence individual governments at different levels. albeit not mutually exclusive. the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) was founded by their respective business communities in 1992. the Lahore Chamber of Commerce seems to be more open to trading with India while the Karachi Chamber of Commerce is less enthusiastic. with little inputs from the real players—the corporate sector itself. informal and unofficial in nature but which are close to governmental agendas and may involve the participation of government officials in their private capacities. and donor representatives. As a form of ‘shadow diplomacy’. A common binding factor pertains to the role of intelligentsia in this endeavour. Notwithstanding its excellent contributions. with the explicit intention of influencing or informing public policy. Nor is it backed by all the national chambers of commerce in each South Asian country. With its permanent headquarters in Islamabad. At the regional level. The FICCI and the CII are at loggerheads in India while in Pakistan. South Asian Free Trade Area and so on.Commerce within a country. WTO and its impact. The SAARC Chamber was established with a grand vision to promote trade and industry in the region and it has been arranging business meetings on many issues such as regional economic cooperation. the SAARC Chamber—in its present form and structure—is unable to play this role effectively. corporate skills of negotiation. business outreach and requisite professional capacity to perform this role. This comes closest to the conceptual notion of Track Two diplomacy which entails policy-related discussions that are non-governmental. It lacks the financial resources (being funded largely by a foreign donor foundation).

This strategy has worked in cases involving an unusual and unprecedented movement of the Track Two participants to the first Track of official dialogues and vice-versa. A significant breakthrough achieved in 1997 was the SAARC summit’s decision to establish a Group of Eminent Persons who was entrusted with the task of envisioning South Asian cooperation over the next two decades and lay out a roadmap to achieve the same. The rationale for involving such influential people lies in their easier access to higher echelons of policy making circles. the Prime Minister’s position. that is. Mr.initiatives.K. spelt out the concrete measures that had to be taken at each stage for . which had. Farooq Sobhan. a Customs Union by 2015 and an Economic Union by 2020 and. Gujral was its Foreign Minister (1997-1999). Mr Gujral continued to be a veteran Track Two participant even after his term as the Prime Minister ended in 1998.24 The GEP Report on SAARC Vision: Beyond the Year 2000 envisaged South Asia moving towards a Free Trade Area by the year 2010. On becoming the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh. and. their suggestions are not likely to be viewed an affront to government policies because of their eminent status and credibility. he pursued several ideas such as that of constituting an eminent persons group. Most of such professionals including retired bureaucrats. Zaki who was the Secretary-General of SAARC and also the Co-Chair of the Coalition for Action on South Asian Cooperation (CASAC)—a Track Two process. Other significant examples include that of Mr Ibrahim H. consistently eschewed any discussions on political and contentious issues. a better understanding of governments’ working styles. I. Both participated in various Track Two dialogues and returned to Track One to occupy the highest office of the land. The Gujral doctrine’s lasting contribution to the South Asian regional integration was to radically alter the region’s political calculus by transforming the negative factor of region’s asymmetry arousing fears of Indian hegemony among its smaller neighbors into a positive factor whereby India assumed asymmetric responsibilities and accepted the principle of non-reciprocity in its relationship with them. which were born in the Track Two domain to Track One. military officers and political leaders have informal contacts with the policy makers through personal connections. till then. the Bangladesh’s Ambassador to India (1992-1995) was also a core member of the CASAC dialogue process. In short. they open the hallowed corridors of power for the voices of intelligentsia to be heard. he became the Tourism Minister of Maldives and proved instrumental in shaping the official SAARC agenda at the Male Summit in 1997 and especially introducing the idea of initiating a dialogue on the basis of “informal political consultation” at SAARC. Later. Dr Manmohan Singh was India’s Finance Minister (1991-96) and Mr.

Dubey’s deep understanding of the official processes proved to be a unique combination that imparted a visionary yet eminently ‘do-able’ character to the GEP Report. Gujral. did not survive beyond its first meeting mainly due to lack of financial support. the former Indian foreign secretary and Rehman Sobhan. Sartaz Aziz. suffice here to say that several ideas presented in this report have become SAARC policies from time to time.’ Therefore. the strategy should be to identify someone close to that particular political leader or bureaucrat. Prof. the personalities of the key players. This forum. the region’s common strategy at the multilateral fora such as the next round of WTO negotiations and. Though a collective endeavour. Overall. who could then. building a South Asian Free Trade Area and so on.achieving this goal. It held its first meeting in December 2000 and aimed at intensifying South Asian regional cooperation through increased public awareness and civil society participation in specific sectors such as investments and energy cooperation in South Asia. Amartya Sen. It included distinguished citizens such as Mr. Dr Manmohan Singh. Lal Jayawardene. Hon. scholars and public personalities can guide the citizens of South Asia to realize the full potential of the region. Prof. it was hoped that the moral weight and legitimacy of these eminent citizens would facilitate the work of the Citizens Commission and also revive the inter-governmental process of SAARC and make it more resilient to the vicissitudes of the regional political environment. The GEP Report also inspired setting up of a Citizens Commission of South Asia (CCSA) by CASAC in the Track Two domain. because the conduit of conveying your feedback as an input in the decisionmaking policies. Muhammad Yunus and Dr. were the principal architects of the GEP Report. Within the government. however. Sher Bahadur Deuba. a well-renowned Bangladeshi scholar. Sobhan’s intellectual insights and years of activism in Bangladesh as well as South Asia and Prof. and their equations among themselves. such as. Asma Jahangir. Dr. largely determines ‘who sets the rules and who calls the shots. Ms. This will be discussed in detail in the following section. the President. a senior government official confided. the Prime Minister. . Every person we interviewed underlined the personalized terrain of the policy-making apparatus in the South Asian region. the Foreign Minister. there are some pros and cons of pursuing this strategy. at that particular juncture. and the ISI Chief in the Pakistan's context. Muchkund Dubey. if you want to play the game according the rules sets by the government. an added element of the Army Chief.K. I. Invoking the South Asian tradition whereby its elder statesmen. the Foreign Secretary and now the National Security Advisor in a democratic set up and.

In the domain of poverty alleviation. it is inconceivable that the expertise of Brajesh Mishra. because in the partisan political world of South Asia. A more long-lasting and perhaps more effective ‘way out’ might. for instance. Aga Khan Rural Support Programme of Pakistan. a carefully nurtured network is. All the micro level success stories of poverty alleviation in South Asia (including Rural Advancement Committee of Bangladesh. this is an inherently sporadic. an entire constellation of bureaucrats. Since many are clearly identified with one political party.” In one stroke. activist groups and networks that explicitly function apart from or beyond governments. when a government is thrown out of power. peoples organisations. exbureaucrats. their objective is not only to promote regional economic cooperation but to create a broader South Asian community. be to first create and institutionalize new mechanisms for interactions between the government and the influential sections of the civil society within each country—an issue we will revert to shortly. These rarely have direct access to the relevant foreign offices but instead aim to change public attitudes and mobilize public pressure on their respective governments for revitalizing the SAARC process. power brokers and politicians also changes hands. the ex-National Security Advisor of the BJP-led NDA government in foreign affairs will ever be used by the present Congress government in power. they become ‘discredited in the eyes of other political parties. to reorder SAARC’s priorities and. Small Farmer Development Programme of Nepal. Self-Employed Women's Association of . no questions have been raised as to precisely which constituency among the South Asia’s populace are SAARC’s policies designed to benefit and how far it has remained accountable to the people for its successes and failures. limited and short-term strategy of influencing the policy-making processes. It is flawed in its present avatar because though the governments in theory represent the people. A Bottoms-up Approach The second school of though advocates a bottoms-up approach and involves the NGOs. aiming to build new constituencies for regional integration. experience and acumen. focus has gradually shifted from macro interventions to participatory micro-development organizations. First involves sharing and learning from their experiential success stories at the grassroots level and feeding those inputs into the policy making processes at the governmental level. therefore. Such civil society organizations have used different instruments to achieve their objectives. thus. an ex-military official pointed out “notwithstanding his vast knowledge. rendered irrelevant. to make it a more peoples-oriented enterprise.On the flip side. Accordingly.’ For example.

Janashakti Banku Sangam of Sri Lanka and Mongar District Health Project of Bhutan) have indicated that where “poor participate as subjects and not objects of the development process. which affects their immediate existence. Nada. rural communities continue to manage their fragile Himalayan environment with great care and labour inputs. memories and mobilization systems and outside resources are marginal. Bhusadia and Ralegaon Siddhi in India. The enormous labour inputs of the poor in environmental management such as those of the Himalayan farmers in terracing their agricultural fields remain an invisible factor often far more than official expenditures. a ten percentage point reduction in poverty which meant that one third of Pakistan’s poverty problem had been overcome within a period of four years. the Grameen Bank in the flood affected plains of Bangladesh. Examples include the environmental project in Karachi in the urban context. In Nepal. whether they result from national funds or foreign aid. it has been estimated that poor peasants are losing as much as one third of their income due to asymmetric markets and local institutions of governance. For example. human development and equity. As .”29 For example.46 percent of the population in the year 2001 to 23.90 percent in 2005. in rural Pakistan. They highlighted the methodological and definitional errors in the government’s poverty data by pointing out the inconsistencies in sources and patterns of economic growth with poverty reduction. that is. the bias in the poverty reduction estimates due to the base year selection and inflation rates and the bias in poverty estimates. a leading economist. the villages of Sukhomajri. Seed. as part of the SACEPS-led initiative for monitoring the implementation of the SAARC Social Charter.India. stressed that “poverty in Pakistan is rooted in an acutely unequal distribution of productive assets and an associated asymmetric structure of power that distorts state markets and state institutions in such a way that they systematically discriminate against the poor with respect to access over resources. public services and governance decisions. it is possible to generate growth. This is true of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh and Pani Panchayats in India. it has been possible to protect the environment and regenerate its productivity. Pakistan’s Citizens Group have raised serious questions about the government’s claims that poverty has declined from 34. They are also “incremental in nature in the sense that they rely on societal experiences. and.”26 Likewise.28 Akmal Hussain.27 Secondly. civil society groups perform the role of a watchdog and closely scrutinize the government policies.”25 Most of the success stories are built upon participation and community effort. whenever local communities have been involved in the control and management of their resources. The NGOs across South Asia have repeatedly shown through their work that community self governance has invariably led to improved environment.

other networks focus on specific issues. cultural activists. . they debated the entire gamut of issues ranging from livelihoods and sovereignty over natural resources. Peoples SAARC aims to create a ‘People’s Union of South Asia’ whose. peace and substantive democracy. The South Asian Free Media Association hosts a portal South Asian Media Net—independent and comprehensive website providing in-depth news coverage from across the region.many as 57. new radical imagination can transcend the reified notion of the post-colonial nation-state and national sovereignty and allow free interactions among people in the region. social exclusion.30 The Citizens Group stressed the need to bring together a network of civil society organizations to carry out an independent survey of the extent of poverty nationwide. migration and free movement of labour. climate change and ecological justice. students and youth along with the marginalised and excluded social groups and communities. work on his farm without any wages at all. gendered violence. religious extremism and communalism. document and disseminate information about human rights violations and human rights treaties and conventions while the latter promotes the inter linkages between human rights. not exhaustive list of such organisations and networks. as mentioned earlier. and 14% work at a wage that is less than half the market wage rate. These create a long term synergy between progressive intelligentsia and grassroots activists across the region though their ability to influence government policies remains a matter of debate. The former seeks to investigate. neo-liberal economic reforms and media and right to information. food sovereignty. activist groups and peoples organisation through national. since the government of Pakistan’s data lacked credibility. erosion of democracy and human rights.4% of the extremely poor peasants who have taken a loan from the landlord. in July 2008. regional and global networks. is one such important conglomeration of women. SAFMA holds conferences and journalists’ summit regularly and has floated a virtual think tank namely South Asian Policy Analysis Network (SAPANA). trade unionists. The following examples offer an illustrative. It also aims at strengthening the peace building capacities of two particular constituencies—women and the media. At their last meet held in Colombo. peasants. Peoples SAARC. Another instrument pertains to the collective mobilization of the NGOs. urban and rural poor. labour. The South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) and South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) are networks of individuals and organisations committed to promoting human rights.31 While Peoples SAARC is a general network involving people from all walks of life.

and water (Water for the People Network). academics and intellectuals through varied initiatives and provides an institutional forum for creating regional identities and forging regional integration. poets. human development perspective. The Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) were set up in 2002 and five years later.8 million members of 48 national trade union centers from 29 countries and strives for social justice of the workers in this region. They have participated in their international programs on development finance and debt (Reality of Aid . International Dalit Solidarity Network. formed in March 2000.Asia Pacific). represents 16. The International Trade Union Confederation-Asia Pacific founded in September 2007. The Duryog Nivaran network was established in 1995 to fill a void in cross border dialogue and experience sharing among organizations. A much older and far more vibrant venture in this domain refers to HIMAL—the only South Asian magazine that follows issues and trends of the region from an extra-nationalist perspective and seeks to define functional concepts of ‘South Asia’ from the SAARC model to the sub-national models. A quarterly SAARC JOURNAL of Creative Ideas. it became the SAARC Apex Body in the domain of culture.In ecology. It promotes an alternate perspective towards disasters that views people affected by disasters as not just victims but partners in their future development and wellbeing. Literature and Art titled: ‘Beyond Borders’ has been launched and a SAARC Information and Dissemination Centre for the promotion of art. literature and culture in the region is also being established.South Asia (CANSA) was established in 1991 by South Asian NGOs and scientists who were concerned about the adverse impact of global climate change on the poor and most vulnerable sections of the society. Climate Action Network. HIMAL has also proved to be a catalyst for other media related initiatives such as the promotion of documentary films and public radio. . scholars. the South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies. Its long term goal is to establish a South Asian ‘virtual water university’. South Asian NGOs are also members of global networks such as the Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) that was established in 1998. SaciWATERs focuses on transforming water resources knowledge systems by using an interdisciplinary approach from a pro-poor. It has created a large fraternity of writers. diplomats. links grassroots priorities with international mechanisms and institutions to make an effective contribution to the liberation of those affected by discrimination based on work and descent. agriculture and rural development (People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty).

not from the standpoint of nations and states but from the standpoint of people. The CSCD created an intellectual base for collaborative research through more than forty in-depth studies.33 In his inaugural address to the ninth meeting of the CSCD in March 1984.” The idea is to “create a South Asian mind” which would look into the business of organizing cooperation in diverse fields within South Asia. Coalition for Action on South Asian Cooperation (CASAC). which provided a valuable contribution to policy-formulation at the regional level.32 A detailed discussion on this follows in the next section. The pioneering efforts and strong personal commitment of Tarlok Singh. This is based on two varying sets of premises. accordingly. belongs the idea of creating a South Asian university. where the students and researchers will be “people of South Asia first and last. CSCD was the first non-governmental network of scholars that brought together research institutions and scholars into a regional network in the late 1970s and early 1980s.” and would look into the issues from a “South Asian perspective. which seek to facilitate inter-state economic cooperation and strengthen the SAARC process through policy research. South Asia Centre for Policy Studies (SACEPS) and South Asia Network of Economic Institutes (SANEI). as mentioned earlier. which is a long term enterprise by its very nature. Mr P. The second viewpoint is that there is a need to mobilize the rich intellectual resources of the region to develop a shared capacity to service the process of developing a South Asian community. To this genre belong the South Asian research institutes and networks such as the Committee for Studies on Cooperation in Development in South Asia (CSCD). To this stream.Knowledge Creation The third school of thought underlines the importance of ‘knowledge creation’ as part of the process and product of civil society initiatives promoting the cause of regional integration. Indian Council for South Asian Cooperation (ICSAC). is to create a body of knowledge regarding the costbenefit analysis of bilateral and regional cooperation in order to help the policymakers make better informed decisions. over and beyond the modern state to which they all belong. the then Foreign Minister of India. Having a secretariat in the Marga Institute at Colombo and a full-time Secretary-General in the person of V. Kanesalingan was also important in sustaining this endeavor. .V. indeed. was critical to the success of this enterprise. structured dialogue and interaction. Narasimha Rao recognized the active role of the CSCD in cementing the bonds of friendship through its creative research studies on common problems of the region. The task. The first believes that the real challenge lies in forging a South Asian consciousness.

37 ICSAC. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung lost interest in CASAC partly due to problems of transition process from two Co-Conveners of CASAC to a single Convener who could not sustain the momentum and leadership changes within the FES. was put together by the then Foreign Minister of Bhutan in 1990. did not last. Regional Food Security. to promote the cause of regional cooperation in South Asia. nonprofit. intra-regional and international economic relations and the cost of non-cooperation among the South Asian states over the next two years. however. the former Secretary-General of SAARC. public policy network of South Asian opinion and policymakers who were committed to the promotion of regional cooperation in South Asia.34 Modelled after the Pugwash conferences. It organized three major conferences on ‘Shaping South Asia’s Future: Role of Regional Cooperation’ and ‘South Asia 2010: Challenges and Opportunities’ followed by a meeting of an eminent group known as the Citizen’s Commission for South Asia. discussed earlier. another such group. Centre for Policy Research partnered with other organizations in the region and initiated the South Asia Dialogues in 1990. CASAC was able to provide regular policy inputs at the summit level throughout the 1990s partly because its Co-Convener. these dialogues involved nearly a hundred leading personalities with a basic objective to influence public opinion and policy for creating the necessary political and social milieu to forge a South Asian regional consciousness. CASAC had devised such a group and many of these members were later included in the official group. was spearheaded by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). And. which set up a Coordinating Group for Studies on South Asian Perspectives (CGSSAP). a German foundation. and.39 Both these initiatives. however. It worked as an informal forum of SAARC consisting of serving and retired government officials with a few academics and focused on issues relating to poverty alleviation. socio-economic welfare. brought with him an in-depth understanding of the official process and how to interface with both the regional and national systems effectively.40 . born in 1991. Regional Fund.38 SAARC had discussed and accepted ICSAC’s policy recommendations for establishment of a Poverty Alleviation Fund. and partly because of their perceptions of the ‘lack of young blood’ in this enterprise. this initiative led to the creation of CASAC—an independent. Another initiative. Kant Bhargava. Before SAARC created the Group of Eminent Person (GEP).Such programs picked up a momentum in the next decade. South Asian Survey from New Delhi.35 This group launched a multi-disciplinary research program in 1991 and produced a series of research studies in the broad fields of socio-political development.36 In May 1994. ICSAC faded away though it continues to publish a research journal. Regional Free Trade Zone – SAPTA. It continues.

SANEI is a regional chapter of a global network. thus leaving behind no institutional memory. the experience of the 1980s and 1990s showed that most such initiatives were short-lived functional regional entities whose life and tenure depended on the host institution’s capacity. The driving force behind creation of SACEPS in 1998 was. where research on regional cooperation is just one of many possible themes. is cementing the principle of ‘regional ownership’ of research institutions/networks in South Asia. there are important differences in their structure. not committed to promoting research on South Asian cooperation any more than the other regional networks support research on cooperation in their region. Both stress upon the need for knowledge creation especially on economic issues and a decade-long. SACEPS specially focuses on topical . South Asia Network of Economic research Institutes (SANEI) was created around the same time and it seeks to foster networking amongst economic research institutions in South Asia. ‘mobile’ existence43 has proven their institutional resilience and.41 It not only seeks to build business and professional networks within the region but also aims to draw together the initiatives of the enormous wealth of civil organizations including NGOs of the region. At the same time. therefore. SACEPS aimed at re-accumulating South Asia’s human resources to promote South Asian regional cooperation through research. its institutional linkages across the region and donor commitments. The success of the CSCD experience with the Marga Institute operating effectively as a secretariat and a full time Secretary-General and the drawbacks of the loose working structure of CASAC that depended on the work of its Convener/CoConveners were particularly instructive in motivating the SACEPS to establish a permanent institutional structure. thus. It a research network whose primary mission is to support development research across South Asia and. While they helped to build a community of South Asian professionals and generated a body of useful ideas. objectives. to institutionalise a South Asian think tank. which creates memory and serves to deliver its message to Track One. with its international Secretariat now located in New Delhi. SANEI is. committed towards releasing a shared agenda for social transformation in the region. many withered away once the funding dried up. the Global Development Network (GDN).Overall. It acts as a nodal agency for dissemination of information on economic issues in the South Asian region through its links with forty-eight research institutes in the South Asia region. to promote research collaboration between institutes. policy studies and policy advocacy. they share much common ground. strategies and outreach.42 Born in the same year—1998.

many ideas produced by these research institutes have been adopted by the official SAARC process. It is part of SACEPS institutional mission to ensure that its research inputs reach policymakers and can be used to motivate civil society. In addition to the examples given above. initiated the ‘SAARC Regional Multimodal Transport Study’ (SRMTS) for enhancing multimodal transport connectivity among SAARC member states. It emphasizes the policy relevance of proposed research work but does not necessarily follow it through to ensure that these inputs are fed into the policy making processes. SANEI issues an open call for research proposals and following a rigorous academic scrutiny. in pursuance of the 12th SAARC Summit’s (2004) decision to strengthen transport. The effectiveness of this strategy can also be gauged from the fact that now the SAARC leadership has started taking an initiative to commission such research studies. is primarily an advocacy based institution which uses research to support the advocacy process. it liaisons with the SAARC secretariat and the South Asian governments individually as well as collectively. transit and communication links across the region. That is probably why their modus operandi also differs. SACEPS has been presenting a concise set of recommendations to the SAARC Secretariat as well as the individual governments before the annual summit meetings of SAARC. This allows for interface between various research organizations and the official SAARC process. M. he has suggested follow-up measures on how the latter should support the SAARC connectivity attempts with . Ramatullah who did the ADB study on transport connectivity is also an Adviser to SACEPS and. to some extent. Accordingly. further discussions at the ministerial level resulted in the Research and Information Systems on Developing Countries (RIS) being asked to prepare a draft SAARC Framework Agreement on Trade in Services for circulation before the next summit meeting at Colombo in 2008. selects ideas that are given research grants. SACEPS. For the past two years.issues that service the SAARC process. its work is measured. by and large. proved to be effective in laying down alternative policy options backed by rigorous research that throws light on their feasibility as well as potential dividends for the governments and people of South Asia. with financial and technical support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). by how effectively it fulfills its advocacy mission. For instance. Likewise. the SAARC secretariat. For example. Therefore. on the other hand. Dr. This strategy has. after the 14th SAARC Summit (2007) Declaration that emphasised the importance of integrating trade-in-services in SAFTA.

touched the lives of thousands of people in the region.supplementary initiatives. Civil society initiatives have also become much more resilient over time. Critics. has steadily grown. Many research institutes and networks have acquired a distinct South Asian character and mandate. managed not to hold the SAARC Summit meetings ransom to their bilateral differences. They have certainly matured and broadened their base in the past two decades. peoples organisations and activist groups. this phenomenon is. adhoc and of a personalized nature. substance and objectives of civil society initiatives in South Asia make it difficult to come to any simple assessment of their overall value. Though in early stages. point that the civil society initiatives have not produced any dramatic breakthroughs on contentious regional issues nor brought any qualitative transformation in the calculus of regional cooperation. The channels of communication between Track One and Track Two continue to be informal. There is a vibrant community of NGOs.44 South Asian countries especially India and Pakistan have. nine countries have got an observer status in SAARC and international institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are willing to commit more resources to further strengthen this process. Track two processes have almost never served as fora for surrogate or proxy negotiations occurring in concert with formal government negotiations as they have for example. however. the private sector has imparted a new. so naturally. Outside the region. Critical Evaluation The widely varying form. undoubtedly. within and outside the region. This section analyzes some important constraints and obstacles as well as few success stories of civil society initiatives in South Asia. Along side the civil society. The number of stakeholders in the SAARC process. Unlike the Kargil conflict which derailed the official SAARC process for almost two years and caused a serious blow to the non-official dialogue process. in the Middle East peace process. Constraints and Obstacles The fundamental argument is as follows: SAARC itself is a deeply flawed process. RIS is also a close partner of SACEPS. which have. a healthy portent for future. They have not had any kind of cumulative effect or achieved a systematic influence on governmental thinking and interactions. powerful stimulus for accelerating the process of regional economic integration. there are limitations to what the civil society can achieve given the state-centric . through their work. by and large.

making South Asia a unique region that “entered the 20th century as a community and leaves this century as seven nation-states divided by their historical inheritance. followed the functionalist paradigm of regional cooperation that simply does not work in South Asia and will remain a non-starter for achieving this goal. which has also. as explained earlier. political and foreign policy system of the Indian subcontinent. The rootcause of this problem lies in the fundamentally flawed premises of SAARC. by and large.paradigm of the South Asian cooperation. Though South Asia is a well-defined geographical region with a shared social.45 The entire SAARC process is thus rightly described as “an exercise in competitive deception. has deeply divided the region. riddled with several ‘ifs and buts’ scenarios to the SAARC process. The institutions are created and decisions. is undergoing a fundamental and perhaps irreversible transformation but South Asian states are . That is because of its ‘poor fit’ with the ground political realities in the region. there are no clear or convincing answers to basic questions such as: have all South Asian governments genuinely embraced the goal of regional economic integration? If so.”47 This game by its very nature is futile and largely unproductive. Neglecting the Political Dynamics The principal reason is the ‘trust deficit’ among the South Asian states which is why most of the decisions taken in SAARC are in the nature of public relations exercises designed to impress domestic audience and foreign powers. governments in South Asia have. economic. been accepted by those involved in the nonofficial dialogues. its post-colonial history. mired in inter-state conflicts. Inspired by the European experiences. SAARC has. how much political capital are they willing to invest to realize that goal? As argued earlier. There is a tendency to make things deliberately difficult for neighbours in order to strike undefined and undefinable bargains some time in future in the context of the disputes that remain to be resolved. lest it benefits the other party.”48 This history cannot be overcome without altering the foundational character of the nation-state and its sovereign resolve to preserve it in the classical frame. Twenty-three years after the creation of SAARC. declarations and even legal instruments are signed with the implicit understanding and intention not to allow the institutions to function effectively and not to abide by the obligations incorporated in the agreed documents. cultural and civilizational past. the internal dynamic of the nation-state. The entire nation-building project sundered the integrated social.”46 The member states have “simply refused to play even the positive sum games. at best. recommendations. made a highly calibrated commitment. Significantly. somewhat unquestioningly.

never used by SAARC. The latter remained under the consideration of Committee on Economic Cooperation for 14 years and nothing came out of it. fears that “a more harmonious SAARC. However. regional economic integration in South Asia is a deeply political enterprise. prove to of limited value.”50 Political parties in all South Asian states have made good use of these apprehensions to play the anti-Indian card or anti-Pakistan card as an instrument of electoral gain in domestic politics. the study rests on a critical assumption of SAFTA’s full implementation within its stipulated time frame. it’s difficult to predict that Pakistan will apply SAFTA provisions to India without which the entire agreement will remain a non-starter. . which in the absence of political insights. relate to the apprehension that “a more integrated South Asia would expose them to domination by India which is already emerging as a global power. were. So.”49 The security establishment in Pakistan and Bangladesh. They make good economic sense but are not pursued by governments for political reasons. in particular. That is precisely why politics trumps economic logic in inter-state relations and also acts as a roadblock in the march towards regional economic integration. a joint study by the Asian Development bank (ADB) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). where India is seen as a benign partner and not a hegemonic power. In view of the present political dynamics between India and Pakistan. Pakistan’s refusal to operationalize SAFTA due to the unresolved Kashmir conflict is jeopardizing the regional economic integration process while Bangladesh’s denial of transit facilities to India is blocking the transport integration in South Asia.” produced by the Kathmandu-based Institute of Sustainable Development. for instance. shows that SAFTA will contribute to stronger economic growth in the region by quantifying its benefits. Another case in point is the SARI (South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy) sponsored South Asia Regional Energy Coalition (SAREC). More recently. huge resources have been invested to generate new knowledge to service the SAARC process but a substantial portion of these studies offer a predominantly economic analysis of the problematiques. for instance. The neglect of political factors has resulted in a two-fold lacuna in their strategy. The World Bank’s report on ‘Forging Sub-regional Links in Transportation and Logistics in South Asia in 2001’ and before that the report on “Transport Linkages and Transit Facilities in SAARC Region. SAARC will not succeed nor are the civil society initiatives likely to make headway without addressing the political dynamics of South Asia.still highly sensitive about preserving their sovereignty in the external domain. At the end of the day. Smaller neighbours inhibitions. would lead to a progressive depreciation in its influence within the domestic polity. First.

Some initiatives in the 1990s were spearheaded by the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians. the International Centre for Peace Initiatives. However. deliberative body of South Asian parliament but no concrete follow-up measure have been undertaken in this direction. Over years. The enormous gap between the declaratory commitments of the heads of governments at the SAARC summits and implementation of these ideas reveal a disconnect between the political leadership and bureaucratic machineries of these governments. Since they are posing critical hurdles in the process. such as the TATA’s proposed $3 billion power project investment in Bangladesh that is modeled on SARI/Energy’s Bangladesh-India power export study. No one knew its locations and none had ever been utilized despite pressing demands in situations of disasters that of the wheat crisis in Pakistan. SAARC has concluded a number of important conventions on suppression of terrorism. None has. In 2006. however. Bangladesh government’s refusal to provide guaranteed supply of natural gas for the TATA project has resulted in the latter abandoning this business venture altogether Second lacuna pertains to the missing leg of the stakeholders in the SAARC process. CASAC and the Jang group of newspapers. Flawed Policy Making Processes This set of constraints refers to the fragmented character of decision-making structures. SAARC Food Security Reserve. regional and national—in every South Asian country. it is important to win them over. lengthy and cumbersome policy making processes of South Asian governments at the national as well as regional levels. however. Besides they have the wherewithal to mobilize the masses and generate political pressure on their respective governments to bring about regional integration. More importantly. produced desired results. which sought to involve the parliamentarians. narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and preventing and combating trafficking of women and children for prostitution. created in 1998. . cyclone-hit Orissa. survived. The civil society organizations and networks have mostly failed to mobilize the political leadership of South Asian countries for promoting the cause of regional integration. remained notional for the past twenty years before being renamed as the Food Security Bank in 2007. as explained earlier. no systematic attempts have been made to reach out to political parties—local. the South Asia Policy Analysis Network—a brainchild of SAFMA revived the idea of creating a non-legislative.which organized a business and media roundtable at Dhaka focusing on how Bangladesh can benefit from cross-border energy trade. None of these have. bureaucratic dominance and.

the commerce and finance ministries may favour lowering barriers among the neighbouring states by relaxing visa regimes. There is a lack of coordination at every step in the entire chain of command from the top.”52 The work of Technical Committees suffers from three major critical drawbacks: “resource crunch. the bureaucratic dominance prevails. frequent changes between National Focal Points and Sectoral Focal Points and lack of proper coordination between them have severely hampered the performance of SAARC’s Integrated Program of Action (SIPA). Officials of two ministries within the same government may adopt a differing policy stance.51 There are also serious problems of coordination between the national bureaucracies and the SAARC bureaucracy. liberalizing the trade and improving the transport connectivity but the security establishment of the home ministry may be wary of such proposals especially in view of the growing terrorist threat in . At times. interminably prolonging the negotiating process or. For example. new ideas pioneered by the political leadership at the summit level are often quietly scuttled by the bureaucracy by stonewalling. that is. which that have stunted the growth and effective performance of IPA activities. On the other hand. In exceptional situations the Heads of the States have exercised their political authority to push through a particular initiative but overall. As a government official explained. The SAARC declaration to eradicate poverty in South Asia also remained on paper for twenty-three years. Inter Governmental Expert Group (IGEG). lack of inter-sectoral coordination and non-implementation of decisions taken”. for example. This is partly because changes in the SAARC’s organizational structure and its intergovernmental decision making processes have not kept pace with the evolution of the organization on ground. This has become a systemic feature of the SAARC’s decision making apparatus. duplication and avoidable compartmentalization in various activities. The negotiation and implementation of the SAFTA process. adding so many conditions that it loses meaning. Group on Customs Cooperation (GCC) and Committee of Participants (COP). various summit declarations made by the Heads of the States to the Council of Ministers and then foreign secretaries and technical committees. the entire functioning of SAARC is spearheaded by a programming committee comprising the concerned joint secretaries of respective countries’ foreign ministries—a body which is not even mentioned in the SAARC Charter. there are too many layers of committees. for example. involved Inter-Governmental Group (IGG). that the business community. resulting in “disorientation.floods in Bangladesh and tsunami-hit Sri Lanka. For instance.53 The stratified and complicated nature of such channels makes it difficult to overcome bureaucratic barriers at the national level as well.

before the Council of Ministers Meeting in Nuwara Eliya. the absence of lateral entry into key bureaucratic positions. Secondly. think tanks and the private sector. had requested the SAARC Secretary General to identify the points in the Report that could be considered for implementation. those ‘inside’ the establishment’ and those ‘outside’ operate from fundamentally different information bases. First points to the legacy of the British tradition of civil service. This often gives rise to mutual suspicion than mutual interaction. There are no established institutional mechanisms for interactions between the governmental and the non-governmental sectors. As a result. Nevertheless. signed in 2002. not something to be implemented in pieces. on the recommendation of the Standing Committee.the region. no effective roles are assigned to the voluntary and other non-governmental organizations for its implementation. there has been no representation of the private sector in the entire SAPTA-SAFTA negotiation and implementation process. Most South Asian states are democracies with active and largely independent presses but the barriers between officials and public persist. was for example in response to the widespread demands of the NGOs and the civil society. The Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution. The members of the GEP were very unhappy since the Report was a package. there may be differences between ministries looking after sectoral interests like textiles from that of the macro worldview of the commerce ministry. SAARC secretariat does not allow any systematic inputs from the key stakeholders including the NGOS. for the first time in its history. In another context. and that of the non-government sources is wide but not well-informed. the government information base remains too narrow. These are mainly due to two structural problems. The SAARC process including the bureaucracies of its member states lack capacity to ‘absorb’ new ideas that may be presented to the regional body. that is. the Standing Committee endorsed the Secretary General’s recommendation and handed it to the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers. There is no sharing of memory and no light is thrown on the decision making processes. Governmental Resistance A third factor is the attitude of government officials towards non-official dialogue processes. which stresses upon the importance of establishing new. The Council of Minister. sustainable value chains across the region even at the cost of short term losses for their national constituents. This is best demonstrated by the SAARC’s handling of the GEP Report. Similarly. said that the recommendations were “inadequate” and asked the . However. in Sri Lanka.

Unlike the past when senior government officials. they could only tell you how to play the game but would never question the rules of the game. totally divorced from social realities on the ground.”54 Divisions within the Civil Society There are too many tracks operating in the non-governmental domain with little coordination. Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh spells out the bottom-line: “the sovereign nature of decision making cannot be overlooked in international relations.” The two live in their separate worlds and that is probably why.” This is only matched by activists’ disdain for the veterans of the Track Two dialogues who are often debunked as as living in ivory towers. it is argued. still reluctant to involve them into the formal decision making apparatus of SAARC. got pushed back after Kargil conflict and only lip service was paid to the Report during the 2001 SAARC Summit in Kathmandu Some interlocutors believe that even after twenty-three years. jhola (khadi) wearing. “The bureaucrats have played the game for so long that despite the RRS (Retired Radical Syndrome) factor. This is partly due to the larger phenomenon of the dispersal of state authority and a concomitant rise of the civil society actors’ role in matters of governance and partly due to better organization. More importantly. sloganshouting brigade with little results to show on ground. however. not a radical one that questions the governmental assumption and seeks to provide any meaningful alternative to the governments. however. Professionals involved in policy advocacy at the top tend to look down upon the NGOs and activists. member states still do not have that capacity while others point out that governmental resistance is beginning to soften. interviewed for a similar review of Track two dialogues in 1997. this time many of those involved in the official SAARC process highly appreciated the importance and value of say the Group of Eminent Persons (GEP) Report and their inputs and vision of South Asia. there is no cohesive peoples movement in South Asia. expressed disinterest bordering on contempt for the involvement of outsiders. professional capacity and outreach of think tanks and NGOs in the past two decades. This often results in duplication and frittering away of limited resources and energies to achieve the same goal. A senior former bureaucrat described the latter as “an ineffective. The GEP Report. . there are divisions among their ranks.Standing Committee and Secretary General to reconsider it before they brought to the unofficial meeting of Ministers at the General Assembly Session in New York. They view Track two essentially as a ‘managerial approach’. They are.

cooperation among Central Banks. South Asian Development Goals for Poverty Alleviation. dealing with the threat posed by terrorism and establishment of South Asian University. strengthening transportation. The political significance of mandating a group of eminent persons to undertake this task rather than their respective Foreign Ministers was not lost on their bureaucratic establishment as well as the civil society. strengthening the SAARC Secretariat. These are eqyally important to understand both the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of developing a durable and effective interface between the governments and the regional civil society. adoption of special measures for the LDCs. These include the commitment of SAARC to the following goals: endorsement of South Asian Free Trade Area. The governments as well as the intelligentsia in South Asia continue to draw upon the ideas presented in the GEP report to push forward the processes of regional integration. transit and communication links across the region. developing tourism in the region. the story of Social Charter shows what can be done to re-orient the . It marked the first-ever initiative by the SAARC leadership to reach out to the regional civil society for laying out a vision of SAARC. energy cooperation. that the GEP Report has not been officially endorsed in its entirety and no adequate mechanisms have been established.55 It is noteworthy. Despite its poor handling by the SAARC officialdom. establishment of a South Asian Development Fund. think tanks and civil society organizations. in turn.Success Stories A turnaround is still possible as shown by the following success stories. Embraced by a variety of stakeholders ranging from governments. to monitor its implementation. followed by a Customs Union leading to South Asian Economic Union. harmonization of standards and simplification of customs procedures. The GEP Report The GEP Report was an important milestone for several reasons. setting up a South Asian Development Bank. The GEP Report. however. thus for. public and private sector cooperation through joint ventures. The Social Charter The SAARC Social Charter and its complementary Citizens Social Charter is a remarkable initiative that has evolved through both governmental and non-governmental paths. presented a grand vision of South Asia complete with a clear roadmap that has proved to be of lasting value. various Summits have endorsed many recommendations of the GEP Report.

Following a two-year long nation-wide consultative process from 2002 to 2004. This was also presented to the SAARC Secretariat as an input in the official deliberations and finalization of the SAARC Social Charter.56 As the intergovernmental work on the SAARC Social Charter was in danger of becoming another declaratory document with a bureaucratic imprint which might never get implemented. It failed to receive national and regional inputs because the SAARC Secretariat had not mandated it nor had enough resources to play a proactive role in mobilizing member states and civil society in the preparation of the Social Charter. In order to maintain coherence and uniformity between the SAARC and the Citizen’s Social Charter. that is. lack of civil society participation continued to dog the implementation of the inter-governmental process as well. population stabilization. In contrast. civil society organisations in each country got an opportunity to identify their own strategic issues and problems as these emerged within their development context. how to achieve it. to be achieved across the region in the areas of poverty eradication. and the protection of children. empowerment of women. Through this approach. The need for a Social Charter for South Asia was first expressed in the GEP Report. in January 2004. through an inclusive and participatory dialogue process. promotion of health and nutrition. The SACEPS-led initiative was conceived and executed by the civil society organizations who had adopted a transparent. SACEPS formulated a citizens’ regional social charter based on the citizens’ national social charters. Many National Coordination Committees (NCCs) established in the member states also had . broad based and participatory process for developing the Social Charter.” The inter-governmental process for preparing the SAARC Social Charter moved at its own pace with little involvement or dissemination about it among the civil society organisations. human resource development. who worked for the official document to work on the latter also. and design systems and strategies which could reduce the social insecurity of their vulnerable groups and thus draw up country-specific Citizen’s Social Charter. The 10th SAARC Summit held in Colombo at 1998 accepted in principle that a Social Charter be formulated “which would focus on drawing-up targets with a broad range.SAARC agenda and. which was adopted in the SAARC Summit. youth mobilization. Dr. SACEPS requested the same coordinator. Godfrey Gunatilleke. in Islamabad. The implementation process of the SAARC Social Charter and the Citizens Social Charter also treaded different paths. SACEPS initiated a parallel exercise which adopted a bottoms-up approach by making it participatory in character and forming Citizens Groups in six SAARC countries.

In the changing state-society dynamic in South Asia. provincial governments and some civil society organisations. A National Steering Committee involving representatives of the key ministries and civil society organizations who had actively participated in the preparatory stages of formulating the Charter was appointed to guide and monitor the implementation of the Charter.no civil society presence. all the stakeholders felt that mere formulation and adoption of the Social Charters would be of little use. difficult and cumbersome affair.58 Finally. The NCC was responsible to coordinate the activities of the sectoral ministries and to carry out periodic reviews. whereas in the SACEPS-led initiative. The nodal agency for implementing the Social Charter was also different in each country. a protracted. making regional-level coordination. the Social Charter has raised the levels of awareness among the intelligentsia and helped overcome their scepticism for SAARC Social Charter. More specifically. The sectoral ministries were made accountable for implementation and monitoring of the concerned sub-sectors of the Social Charter. the Citizens Forum led by Shirkhat gah mobilized the NGO community and made them acutely conscious of the importance of such an initiative. It then formed a committee with representatives from all four provinces and the federal government officials along with development activists and human rights activists to undertake a collective review of government’s policies and commitment to implement the Social Charter. The Social Charter is the first document of its kind where citizens have a right under an international agreement to monitor the progress made by governments in their respective countries.57 In Nepal. which developed the Pakistan Plan of Action for this purpose. the government constituted a nine-member National Coordination Committee under the Ministry of Women. the Planning Commission was responsible for the implementation of the Social Charter though its National Coordination Committee included representatives of federal ministries. the inter-governmental agreement on the SAARC Social Charter did not provide for a monitoring mechanism. . In Sri Lanka. it has been instrumental in transforming the terms of the debate from the welfare-based notion of a state to a rights based approach—critical for re-validating the legitimacy of the state. Overall monitoring and evaluation of the activities was assigned to the National Planning Commission. the Prime Minster’s office was assigned the responsibility for the co-ordination and monitoring of the Social Charter. which prepared a Five Year National Plan of Action. Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW). In Pakistan. In Pakistan. The Citizens’ Regional Social Charter spelt out the need for establishing Citizens’ National Forum in each country to monitor the Social Charter.

5 per cent in 2002-03. The report suggested that in the absence of a comprehensive development plan. This was mainly due to lack of an effective monitoring and evaluation system. In contrast to the government’s goal of reducing the number of poor by half by 2010 and the complete eradication of poverty by 2015. for example. and anomalies between the set targets and ground realities. 59 The overall analysis presented a disappointing picture of citizen’s rights in Bangladesh where in most of the cases. The monitoring of the Social Charter in Bangladesh highlighted the gap between the government claims and social realities on the ground. the Citizens Social Charter drew upon the Supreme Court judgments that had made it the duty of the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6-14 years and. strategies. which has always been the least focused aspect of program implementation in Nepal. The two parallel exercises also showed a wide divergence in the perspective of civil society and governments on the need to implement its principles. the rate of poverty reduction in Bangladesh according to official statistics is only about 0. At this rate. stressed the need for establishing a joint public-private network for data/information generating institutions to share and disseminate data. come under pressure to do more to fulfil their social responsibilities towards people. the present situation remains a far cry from expectations. this had significantly increased in Bangladesh and. The Pakistan review revealed that the Pakistan Plan of Action when compared with the SAARC Social Charter and the Citizens Social Charter has opted for a vertical rather than an integrated .60 There is a great deal of controversy about the reliability and accuracy of development statistics of Nepal because of serious methodological problems. thus. On the contrary. This had made both—the Right to Education and the Right to Food for children—justiciable. Nepal is also lagging behind to meet the conditions set in its Citizens Social Charter. In India. the high level of poverty and social inequality would constrain the achievement of most of the key targets outlined by the governments. The important issues revealed by its monitoring report showed low sectoral performance. about 3. as mentioned earlier. Citizens Forum in Nepal and in Pakistan. data inadequacy and discrepancy.52 percent per year. and public investment. it would require 40 years to reduce it by half and 81 years for the complete eradication of poverty.5 million Children between 6 and 10 years of age were still to be enrolled into the primary education system and the net enrolment rate in the secondary level was only 4. The SAARC Social Charter had suggested a target of the reduction of violence against women by 75 per cent by 2015. provide them with cooked meals (and not raw foodgrains) at the primary level. against the government’s claim of 100 per cent primary and secondary enrolments.Governments have.

aside from national focal point institutions. Khawar Mumtaz pointed out that the most important gap between the two is that while the Citizens Social Charter considers social exclusion as a principal challenge to achieving human well being and emphasises the need to address structures of power and the governance system. in his address at a CASAC meeting in Kathmandu mentioned “the need to set up a South Asian University with schools in every country. K. reiterates the need for monitoring the SAARC Social Charter but as argued earlier. policies and programmes. India’s former Prime Minister. which makes it imperative for the civil society “to drag the government back to its fundamental responsibility to provide them with the correct data. A brainchild of the South Asian intellectuals—this idea was a product of the Fellowships in South Asian Alternatives (FISSA). he suggested that SACEPS could evolve into a South Asian . with particular reference to women’s basic human rights. Overall. Thirdly. self governing international educational institution that will have a regional focus and full academic freedom for the attainment of its objectives.mainstreaming approach and it does not follow a holistic approach as mandated by the latter nor does it address the gap between constitutional guarantees and existing legislation. a Ford foundation-funded project that was executed through networking among several non-governmental institutions in 1996. is continuing its monitoring efforts as part of its study on the “SAARC Road Map”.62 Interestingly. there is no provision in the Charter itself for monitoring its progress. on the other hand. SACEPS.”61 Civil society organizations used the Pakistan Citizen’s Social Charter as an advocacy document and its development represented their collective thinking. and the Pakistan Plan of Action in particular. Gujral. I. there is no mention about democracy and human rights in the government document. and to involve its citizens in an honest dialogue on how to tackle the social ills. the official Plan of Action does not. The agreement to establish this university was signed in 2007 with an objective to create a world class institution of learning that will bring together the brightest and the most dedicated students from all countries of South Asia and impart them liberal and humane education. It is envisaged as a non-state. it established the watchdog and advocacy role of civil society vis-à-vis the SAARC Social Charter in general. non-profit. since then several parallel ideas of South Asian University have been floated. Interestingly. especially poverty and the absence of the rule of law. Ms. South Asian University The establishment of a South Asian university is a success story-in-the making. the Declaration of the 15th SAARC Summit made at Colombo in August 2008. Alternatively. Secondly.

to create a strong and autonomous support structures in the governmental and the non-governmental domain. Economic integration of South Asia is a political affair and it will not succeed without squarely . M. Prof G.”64 In August 2005. Menon and others. Swaminathan. While no single grand strategy is likely to work. sustainable and peoples-oriented endeavour. The university is expected to start functioning in the year 2010. Karan Singh had made a similar suggestion about a regional university. the then Ford Foundation representative had taken a stand that “the two ideas are radically different [and] both are worth pursuing. M. the SACEPS Board mandated Rizvi to prepare a proposal for the South Asian University.K. She apparently communicated this to Dr Manmohon Singh who then formally mooted the proposal of a South Asian university at the Dhaka SAARC summit in 2006. which is when Prof. it may be possible to identify certain key elements to put the SAARC process on a fast track. S. Rehman Sobhan intervened to apprise Dr Singh about Gowher Rizvi’s work on this issue. The main campus of the University shall be located in India and it could establish campuses and centers elsewhere in the region. and.K. He even suggested the key faculty including Raja Ramanna. At that time. Sonia Gandhi. a business plan based on the public-private partnership model have been constituted. infrastructure and.63 Earlier Dr. India is spearheading this initiative and has decided to finance the project for the first two years.G. Lessons Learnt and Recommendations The idea of regional integration has captured the imagination of South Asians but the debates on identifying appropriate and effective strategies for securing this objective continue. the mandate for working out the proposal for South Asian University was being delegated to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Chadha has been appointed as the chief executive officer of this project and four task forces looking into the matters of governance and legal issues. academic ordinances. Gowher Rizvi. Dr Singh took the initiative in suggesting to MEA that Rizvi prepare the concept paper. to make it a broadbased. It has allocated land for this university in New Delhi. who took it to the UPA Chairperson. Subsequently. which provided the basis for the official SAARC work on this idea and was later approved by the inter-governmental committee of experts of SAARC.University. Learn the Political Rules-of-the-Game A functional approach to regional cooperation can only yield limited dividends.

this should become a part and parcel of official inter-governmental process and the non-official dialogues. its time to unleash the positive pull of the political factors. If SAARC has to deliver. Without creating political stakes for people. to mobilize the local. Since the resistance to SAARC among the smaller neighbours is rooted in the smaller countries’ fear of being economically overwhelmed by India. it’s very important to adopt a bi-partisan approach in South Asia for mobilizing the support of the political class. have done little beyond paying it a lip-service. because SAARC has only experienced its negative impact thus far. . on the inter-linkages between the internal political dynamic in these countries and regional imperatives for economic integration. While these have paid dividends in the past. the challenge for intellectuals is to demonstrate in tangible ways that India can be a resource for improving their lives rather than threatening their livelihoods. Every initiative involving political leaders or the parliamentarians must also bring the opposition parties on board. the first calls for a radical transformation of the SAARC Charter—a tall order for its inter-governmental set-ups. therefore. therefore. Create a Repository of Sectoral Success Stories It is important to distinguish between the value. However. a social support base and understand the local lingua franca of people. It is important. ‘politics’ must no longer be eschewed as a ‘dirty word’ by all the stakeholders in the SAARC process.engaging with its political dynamics. For example throughout the 1990s. On a tactical note. These must be mobilized to explain to people what SAARC means to them and how it can make a difference to their lives. This has been so. regional and national political parties in every country because they have the mechanisms—party organizations—resources. relevance and impact of pursuing a general approach to strengthen the SAARC process as compared to the sectoral ones before choosing an appropriate strategy in a given context. various Track Two initiatives have made an important contribution towards creating a South Asian consciousness and mobilizing public opinion to promote the cause of regional integration in South Asia. which for the past twenty three years. Ideally. and. political viability of regional economic cooperation measures. The mantle of this responsibility. The think tanks need to generate a fresh and informed debate on why regional economic integration makes political sense especially for the smaller neighbours. the agenda for economic integration in South Asia will sooner than later run into a roadblock. falls on the non-governmental stakeholders. they are now yielding diminishing returns.

and. is likely to have an exemplary effect on other sectors. As explained earlier. have singularly failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing global environment in which SAARC operates and its expanding role within the region. NGOs in South Asia have recorded many success stories in micro credit programs for poverty reduction and community management of water resources which can inspire similar endeavors in other parts of the region. albeit rotating body of independent experts and professionals. sectoral initiatives are more focussed. it’s in dire need of a complete overhaul. the freedom to choose Directors out of a short list prepared by an expert-level selection committee after which approval may be sought from the respective .What is needed now are a string of success stories at the sectoral level that can serve as the building blocks for the larger goal of regional integration. These include significantly augmenting their capacities in terms of finance and human resources. These include the textiles and garments sector along with leather goods. This is also true for the non-governmental domain. The role and functions of the SAARC secretariat and the Secretary-General. they have a better understanding of the special dynamics of their situational context. horticulture. The Secretary General must have ample resources to hire experts when needed for specific projects and. frozen in its 1986 Memorandum of Understanding. stimulating the creation of more such new. timber products and products of small scale manufacturing sector. for example. Exports from these sectors are facing stiff global competition and the South Asian countries “can minimise their losses and maximise their advantages by careful identification. of the lines of production in which vertical integration can take place and those in which horizontal specialization can be fully exploited. through research and study. a higher potential of yielding concrete results. This is especially true for the private sector. which in the past have severely hindered the implementation of projects and their monitoring. That is because. Let us explain. rubber goods. sustainable value chains in agriculture. A success story in the textiles sector. Re-vamp the SAARC Organizational Structure SAARC’s organizational structure is dated and. Several measures to widen their mandate and scope of operations have been suggested.66 The Secretariat needs to institutionalize an interface between its bureaucratic machinery and a permanent. The South Asian countries still derive most of their foreign exchange earnings from production in a few sectors. energy sector and so on.”65 The GEP had indeed suggested studies on vertical integration in selected sectors but it was not included in the SAFTA Agreement.

holding the bureaucratic machineries of their respective governments accountable for delivering results. The rejuvenation of the SAARC process must permeate every level and institutional mechanism of this organization.member states. Many of these projects by their very nature are unsustainable: they have a beginning and they have to come to an end beyond which they do not last. which is the basis of sustainability. What such a shift implies is the need to move away from ‘funding’ as the primary activity to one where finding the right partners that can sustain engagement across international divides through common interests. the individualist market that is risk taking and the activist civil society that is risk sensitising—are in a constructive engagement. In that way. critical or regulatory proclivities of each solidarity is matched with that of its counterpart. “They cognise and strategise to forward their best interests: both their interest and their urge to protect it are intrinsic and longlasting. which are a special sub-set) are long-lasting. Sustainability in such a venture is probably best assured when like collaborates with like as the motivating factor between them is the same. . activists and regulatory bureaucracies.67 The programme resources of SAARC committed by the member governments from time to time should also be paid to a fund within a stipulated time limit. Unfortunately. they should hold more frequent business meetings without any frills. First concerns the mode of funding civil society initiatives especially at the grassroots levels through international aid for development-related projects. So. the aid industry has not tapped that institutional reservoir of ‘sustainability’. pluralizing the social terrain and creating a stable policy environment where three primary social solidarities—the hierarchic bureaucracy that is of a risk managing nature. however. Unlike projects. The objective of such meetings should be to impart a political momentum and set the highest standards of accountability by the Heads of the states adopting a pro-active approach in monitoring the implementation of their commitments made at the summit level and. So.”68 This calls for first and foremost. instead of donor governments giving aid to recipient governments and expecting the latter to deliver ‘sustainable development’ to its poor. Enhance the Sustainability of the Civil Society Initiatives This has three dimensions. along with the annual summit meeting of the Heads of the states. institutions understood as basic social solidarities (not to be confused with organisations. and put at the disposal of the Secretary General. it might make more sense to envisage co-operation between different countries’ businesses. the innovative.

The experience thus gained could then feed into the policy making processes much more effectively. Given the power structures and recruitment policies of governments in South Asia. this is not likely to happen very often. Second option is to institute fellowships for government officials to take a sabbatical and associate themselves with a think tank or a grassroots level NGO in the region for a short duration. they serve as shared repositories of institutional knowledge. in the private sector. Third option is to create new. the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry may take an initiative to organize an annual summit meeting involving the top corporate leaders and government representatives for a . More importantly. which as explained earlier. these do not guarantee a policy change. independent national and regional-level forums linked to the SAARC secretariat as explained above. to institutionalize linkages between the governmental and nongovernmental sectors as these are more durable. implementation and evaluation. therefore. Fourthly. Finally. In fact. is a product of complex negotiations between different segments of the governmental system. structured and effective and. First option is to deploy the ASEAN model where government officials take part in Track Two initiatives in their individual capacity. Experience of the older generation and a certain exuberance of the youth to try new ideas and think ‘out of the box’ can prove to be a very engaging and productive exercise and yields good results. These can be achieved in different ways. The purpose of such forums should not only be to serve as testing grounds for new ideas. there must be clear guidelines as to how their inputs would feed into the policy making processes. It is important. which makes them sustainable and guarantees autonomy of their functioning in the long term. Personal networks have been successful albeit only in those situations where key personalities were able to traverse the path from Track One to Track Two and vice-versa. Institutionalize the Channels of Communication between Track Two and Track One The effectiveness of the non-governmental players influencing the government policies critically depends on their channels of communication. These must also evolve a strategy to reduce their dependence on project-specific funding procured from different donors and try creating their corpus funds. they need to focus on constantly rejuvenating their organizations by training and involving the younger generation of scholars and activists in this endeavour. but to also provide for their monitoring.The second dimension pertains to the long term financial viability of research institutes and various other civil society organizations involved in Track Two processes.

resulting in their repetitive reiteration year after year. not Words The single most important weakness of the SAARC process has not been in the domain of ideas but their execution. There is no dearth of bright ideas but most of them are not pursued to their logical end. . The ultimate goal should be establish an interface between the governments and the civil society. Actions Count. the Secretariat should explore the possibility of setting up a Regional Ombudsman—a collective body of professionals—which should perform the role of a watchdog for the SAARC process. However. Participation of large conglomerates and big industrialist would be critical for the success of such a venture because they best understand and command the market power without which the goal of regional economic integration will remain elusive. structured and result-oriented dialogue process.69 In view of the consistently poor record of SAARC in implementing its programs. Ideally. which had suggested that the GEP Report would be presented directly by the Eminent Persons to the Heads of the States. All these should be organized on the same principle that governmental negotiations need to be accompanied by parallel consultations with those from the nongovernmental sector.high-level. the SAARC leadership should take the lead to initiate the practice of involving eminent representatives of the civil society and key professionals in their deliberations. In fact. Alternatively. implementation and evaluation. In the official SAARC process. it’s important to pursue this objective which will set the precedent for the Council of Ministers and the Foreign Secretaries meetings as well. drawing from the experience of the Social Charter in South Asia. This is true for both governmental and non-governmental sectors. every aspect of SAARC’s working requires proper monitoring. It didn’t materialize. (ii) the findings and recommendations of workshops and seminars generally remain on paper. (iii) decisions taken by the First Special Session of the Standing Committee and even the plans and projects specifically recommended by various specific ministerial groups are not seriously implemented. This proposition was indeed discussed at the Male summit in 1997. non-implementation of decisions can be identified at three different levels: (i) the Technical Committees do not follow-up the decisions. This task could be given to an independent agency. the non-governmental forums may also consider instituting an autonomous and independent Regional Ombudsman if this suggestion is not accepted by the SAARC officials.

It must reinvent itself and it can not do so without the full support and involvement of the regional civil society in South Asia. Second. First. SAARC has come a long way but it stands at a critical juncture today. This calls for forging new solidarities among different segments of the civil society which need to complement each other’s strengths. the non-governmental sector needs to draw two more lessons. The glaring gap between SAARC’s declarations and progress on ground drives home the point that the civil society must try creating independent mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of such ideas. What’s at stake is not just the future of South Asian economies but the human potential of the one-fourth of the world’s humanity.In this context. Regional integration of South Asia is only the first critical step towards securing their future. the think tanks need to go beyond publication of their research work and undertake policy advocacy to ensure that their work bears fruit. . the yardstick of success for their work must not only include adoption of their ideas by the official SAARC process but also its follow-up and implementation because the real battle lies beyond SAARC making a declaratory commitment to any issue.

21(8) August 2008. “Prosper thy Neighbour in South Asia”. August 2008.5 billion while that of China was $ 7. SAARC. 47. “Revitalizing SAARC Trade: India’s Role at 2007 Summit. Dhaka: Centre for Social Studies. 29 Ibid. 31 Background Note. August 2008. 21 Taneja. Modern South Asia. 21 (8). Muchkund Dubey. Silwal and Lhatu Wangchuk. 1083. “Pluralism. South Asia Economic Report. pp. “Traditional SAARC. 2004. 20 Ibid. Kathmandu. Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. Marga Institute. 4 Muchkund Dubey. “SAARC and South Asian Regional Integration. 7. 19 Dr Manmohan Singh’s interview in Himal. May 2008. and Meghna Guhathakurta. Monitoring of SAARC Policies and Programmes. 30 Ibid. 15 February 2005. Islamabad: SAPANA. p.Akmal Hussain. 15 Nisha Taneja. Naik. national development strategies and complementarities. “A New Perspective on Regional Cooperation in South Asia.” A paper presented at a conference on ‘Does South Asia Exist: Prospects for Regionalism in South Asia. 2006.” See.” in Navnita Chadha Behera. New Delhi. 26 Ibid. 1992. October 2006. SACEPS Paper No. 12.0 billion. 2006. Shreshtha. Islamabad: SAPANA. 23 Ibid.” A Report prepared for School of Advanced Studies. 14 Muckund Dubey. Unpublished Paper.. “Informal Trade in the SAARC Region: Implications for FTAs. Niaz A. 1082. forthcoming.. p. 8. 13 For details. 24 The Group consisted of 12 eminent persons from each of the member countries of the SAARC. In 2005.” Economic and Political Weekly.” in Imtiaz Alam. Taneja and Sawhney. ‘Revitalizing SAARC Trade. 2007. http://www. South Asian Journal Conference. 6 Dev Raj Dahal. Ahamed Shaheed. 16 Asian Development Bank. “Struggle for Freedom. it was called South Asian Regional Cooperation (SARC). 144-145. 2 The participating institutions included Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.org/index. 28 Khawar Mumtaz and Tahira Abdullah.P.” June 2008. Rehman Sobhan.peoplespacesl.A. Mangala Moonesinghe.’ p. 9 Saman Kelegama. 33 These included introductory survey of the economy. (eds. p. 13.” June 2008. 17. ed.” in Envisioning South Asia. 10 Ibid. 21 (8). “Regional Economic Integration in South Asia: Principal Issues and Role of Political Factors. Monitoring Implementation of the SAARC Social Charter in Pakistan. 17 Nagesh Kumar. ‘Informal Trade in the SAARC Region. India’s exports to her SAARC partner countries was $ 5. 5368.” Economic and Political Weekly.K. p. B. SACEPS Paper No. Indian Council of World Affairs and Nepal’s Center for Economic Development and Administration. ‘Revitalizing SAARC Trade. p. SACEPS.’ p. 7 Ibid. V. 27 Ibid. 2005.” Himal. “Repositioning SAFTA in the Regionalism Debate. import-export structure and trade expansion. 5 Jayadeva Uyangoda. see. 11 Taneja and Sawhney. “Track Two Actors Contribution to Regional Cooperation Initiatives in South Asia. resources and prospects of South Asia.). 18 Saman Kelegama and Ratnakar Adikari. Democracy and Ethnic Conflict Resolution: Possibilities in Sri Lanka for State Re-making. 1238. ed. Financial Express.” Economic and Political Weekly. Nisha Taneja and Aparna Sawhney. These included Ibrahim Hussain Zaki (Chairman). 12 Dr Manmohan Singh’s interview in Himal. p. 1082. Mohammed Moshin. 25 Cited in Mahendra Lama. Sage. Kathmandu: SACEPS. April 7. Pai Panandiker. pp. 31 March 2007. 3 At that time. See. December 18. SAARC: Beyond State-Centric Cooperation. 8 By 2004 China’s exports to India’s SAARC partners had surpassed India’s exports to them. 91. “Testing Economic Diplomacy in South Asia: Redefining Priorities and Stakeholders in the New Economy. Y. International Relations in South Asia: Search for an Alternative Paradigm. 22 Poonam Barua. 2006.. 9-10. development of 1 . Senake Bandaranayake. p.php 32 Imtiaz Ahmed. John Hopkins University. Democracy and against Structurally Adjusted Destruction of Human Lives in South Asia.’ p. Page -5368.

Citizen’s Social Charter in Nepal: Implementation Monitoring Report. 22 from India. p. May 2007. Kathmandu: SACEPS. Lahore. Paul van Tongeran and Hans van de Veen. Role of Print and Electronic Media n Promoting SARC. p. September 2006. Kathmandu: SACEPS. Kathmandu. 5. the Independent Planning Commission. independent headquarters in Kathmandu. Centre for Policy Research (CPR) India. the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.” A paper presented at a conference on ‘Does South Asia Exist: Prospects for Regionalism in South Asia.. Boulder: Lynne Rienner. 48 Rehman Sobhan. SANEI was first hosted by ICRIER in New Delhi and after five years. 11. eds. payments arrangements and monetary cooperation. Vandana Shiva and Ibrahim Zaki. Institution for Integrated Development Studies (IIDS) Nepal. ‘Regional Economic Integration in South Asia. Promotion of Greater Understanding Among Governments. development of the Himalayan resources. 24. “Forging New Solidarities: Non-Official Dialogues”. 7 from Pakistan and 5 from Sri Lanka. Enhancing Collective Self-reliance and Negotiating Strength of the South Asian Countries with respect to the rest of the World.” Forum. in Searching for Peace in Central and South Asia.” Paper presented at a conference on ‘SAARC: 2015: Expanding Horizons and Forging Cooperation in a Resurgent Asia’. University of Toronto – York University. Research and Information System for the Non-Aligned & Other Developing Countries (RIS). 36 The CGSAAP studies were on following themes: Payments and Monetary Cooperation in South Asia. Akmal Hussein.’ p. 4. ‘SAARC and South Asian Regional Integration. 51 Ibid. 47 Dubey. 226-231. ‘Monitoring implementation of the SAARC Social Charter in Pakistan. 21 (8). Dhaka.’ p. 75. Beyond Boundaries: A Report on the State of Non-Official Dialogues on Peace. SACEPS Paper No. 34 These were: Centre for Policy Dialogue. that was organized in March 2007 at New Delhi. p. Paul M. 5. it moved to Pakistan Institute of Development Economics in Islamabad. 46 Dubey. studies on three important themes including transport and communication linkages in South Asia. Monique Mekenkamp. Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) Sri Lanka and Marga Institute.. 2 (4). Transport and Communications Linkage. 10.1. Sri Lanka. A Monthly Publication of Daily Star.Himalayan resources. 53 Ibid. Rasgotra. 43 SACEPS was originally hosted by Centre for Policy Research at New Delhi. 44 Navnita Chadha Behera. 9. June 2006. 56 Shyam Prasad Adhikari and Unbodh Ushakar Rijal. 49 Rehman Sobhan. 54 Dr Manmohan Singh’s interview in Himal. 45 Dubey. In 2005. “SAARC9 2015: Expanding Horizons and Forging Cooperation In a Resurgent Asia. the International Centre for Ethnic Conflicts. trade channels. Khatri. 1997. transport and communication linkages. Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Pakistan. it established its permanent. systems and procedures. Colombo and the Nepal South Asia Centre. 38 Its members included M. Institutions and People of South Asia.’ p. 42 There are 11 research institutes from Bangladesh. ‘Monitoring of SAARC Policies and Programmes. It moved to Dhaka in 2002 and its host institution was the Centre for Policy Dialogue.’ p. 39 Navnita Chadha Behera. 41 Its partner institutions are Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Bangladesh. 37 Sridhar Khatri. p. Evans and Gowher Rizvi. 40 FES supported SACEPS programme on labor migration in the region and has provided similar support to Institute for Policy Studies in Sri Lanka and also for activities in India such as the conference on ‘SAARC: 2015: Expanding Horizons and Forging Cooperation in a Resurgent Asia’. 10. ‘Regional Economic Integration in South Asia. Ambassador Arshad of Bangladesh. 50 Ibid. Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies.” June 2008. SACEPS Paper No. 3 from Nepal.S. Employment Generation and Poverty Amelioration in South Asia. 1239. Monitoring the Implementation of the SAARC Social Charter in Sri Lanka. and the development of the resources of the sea. Rediscovering a South Asian Community: Civil Society in Search of its Future. and Cooperation in Technical and Professional Education and Training. 52 Lama. “The Third Decade of SAARC. 57 Mumtaz and Abdullah. organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. . 2002. pp.. and development of the resources of the sea. “Bangladeshi Perspectives on South Asian Regional Integration. Islamabad and the CSCD-Colombo. 35 These were: the Administrative Staff College of India at Hyderabad. Democratization and Regional Cooperation in South Asia. During the second phase. Bhekh Thapa. August 2008. 58 Marga Institute. Joint Center for Asia-Pacific Studies. 1998. 55 Sridhar K.’ p. Security & Cooperation in South Asia. March 2007.

Kathmandu. Dhaka. 68 Dipak Gyawali.” Think Piece. 62 These included Centre for Alternatives. 82. 4. 67 Ibid. April 2002. 66 Recommendations to the 15th SAARC Summit.Nijera Kori & Unnayan Onneshan. 13. National Citizen’s Social Charter: A Reality Check.The Innovators. 1-3. New Delhi. Institute for Environment and Development. Kathmandu: SACEPS. ‘Monitoring implementation of the SAARC Social Charter in Pakistan. 2004. 64 Navnita Chadha Behera. pp. 59 . August 2008.’ p. 60 Adhikari and Rijal. ‘Monitoring of SAARC Policies and Programmes. September 2006. Colombo and Sustainable Development Policy Institute. 57. “Development of Sustainability: International Cooperation in a Post-Foreign Aid Age. New Delhi. ‘Regional Economic Integration in South Asia. p. Regional Centre for Strategic Studies. Islamabad. Peace and Cooperation in South Asia. Kathmandu: SACEPS. Centre for Study of Developing Societies. SACEPS Paper No. p. 6. 65 Dubey.’ p. 69 Lama. 61 Mumtaz and Abdullah. June 2001. Unpublished Report. Engaging Tomorrow: The Ford Foundation and Regional Security. p. 24. Nepal Water Conservation Foundation. ‘Citizen’s Social Charter in Nepal: Implementation Monitoring Report’. 63 In a conversation with the author.