Deeper integration for peace and prosperity
THE title of this write-up is the theme of upcoming 18th Saarc Summit, which is scheduled for November 26 and 27 in Kathmandu. It underscores the importance of deepening integration in the region. The theme is appreciable since there is no alternative to promoting regional integration. This article urges the South Asian leaders to make the theme of the Summit a reality for the greater interest of the people in the region.
It is unfortunate for the people of the South Asian region that due to sustained hostile relations among some members (mainly Indo-Pak), Saarc has achieved little. The outcome is that South Asia is still the least integrated region in the world with intra-regional trade at 5%, while it is 32% in Asean, 50% in European Union, and 68% in US-Canada-Mexico trade bloc (NAFTA). Against the above backdrop, deeper integration will bring benefits for all. Hence, in the upcoming Summit, some areas which are of grave concern for the region need to be identified.
The topmost priority should be health challenges. Looking at the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has taken more than 5,000 lives and caused heavy losses and damages economically, it is time to think about regional disease dynamics in South Asia. Fourteen areas of cooperation have been identified in the Saarc official website, but the issue of health is not identified as an area which requires urgent attention. Due to the growing importance of health security governance, Saarc should set up an independent wing on an emergency basis to research, monitor and be prepared to face any kind of regional health challenge.
Education will be an excellent area to promote cooperation. In fact, it has been identified as an area of cooperation by Saarc and the process has already been started through the establishment of South Asian University in 2010, which needs to be promoted for the greater cause of South Asia. Regarding other important issues, Bangladesh can propose setting up of an independent wing to monitor climate change and disaster issues in South Asia as Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of global warming and climate change along with other South Asian countries.
Saarc Summits have often been described as being mere photo opportunities for South Asian leaders, which needs to be changed. In fact, Saarc needs to take some visionary initiatives and also explore and utilise the unfulfilled potential of the region.
The writer is affiliated with the East Asia Study Center (EASC), University of Dhaka. E-mail: [email protected]