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The vision of a South Asian Community

SAARC, since its inception, has positively contributed to a resurgence of South Asian consciousness over the years. Assertion of a South Asian identity has emanated from the growth of such consciousness.

Experts have, however, pointed out that SAARC still lacks the vitality and vision to evolve into a South Asian community. The 14th SAARC Declaration, inter alia, refers to the vision of a South Asian community where there is ‘smooth flow of goods, services, peoples, technologies, knowledge, capital culture and ideas in the region’.

The region must meet some pie-requisites for realizing this vision, and the leaders have underscored the importance of connectivity in this context. They have agreed to improve intra-regional connectivity, particularly physical, economic and people- to-people connectivity.

The decision to earmark one rural community as SAARC village in each member state is a welcome step towards achieving the goal of a South Asian community.

People-to-people contacts or connectivity is a recurring constant in all the Summit Declarations (1985-2007). While inter-governmental meetings and agreements do facilitate the process of regional cooperation, for a much wider and more effective impact of such cooperation, it is essential to supplement intergovernmental efforts by responding to the aspirations of the peoples of South Asia, particularly their spontaneous desire to communicate and cooperate with each other at the people-to-people level.

It is not only government officials and representatives but also academics, researchers, NGOs, civil society organizations, the business community and other professional groups who can play a vital and active role in promoting the SAARC spirit and giving impetus to regional programs and projects’.

Loki Raj Baral observes rightly: the South Asian region needs to be revisited by scholars and policy planners in order to boost the spirit of regional cooperation.’

The potential exists in the region for the generation of friendship, goodwill and trust through interactions between the peoples, the foundation for promoting community culture and fostering harmonious relations in South Asia.

It was envisaged at the 3rd summit in 1987 that ‘SAARC should be increasingly oriented to the people’s needs and aspirations so that the masses of the region could be drawn to a greater extent into the mainstream of SAARC activities.’

Such orientation is already overdue to bring about a qualitative improvement in the general atmosphere of the region contributing to peace, friendship and cooperation in the area.

The establishment of the South Asian University in India would certainly help strengthen cooperation and dialogue on educational matters through development of exchanges between academics, experts, policymakers, students and teachers.

On the economic plane the same process needs to be replicated to bring together the regions development planners, economists, policy makers, administrators, university scholars, representatives of the business community and the private sector in general for overall economic development leading to progress and prosperity.

In an excellent paper presented at a seminar on SAARC last year, Shreedhar Khatri quite succinctly observes: ‘An essential ingredient for a vision of South Asia for the Third Decade is the people of the region’ Commenting on the flaw of the present SAARC process, Khatri sounds a bit sarcastic when he remarks: ‘although the governments in theory represent the people no questions have been raised as to how far they have remained accountable, in achieving the objectives of the


 Culture and education cornerstones of SAARC region

organisation’.

It is not necessary to go too far to produce supporting evidence.

The 13th Summit Declaration categorically states: ‘the peoples of South Asia are the real source of strength and driving force for SAARC’. Since SAARC was created to promote the welfare of the peoples of the region, all SAARC activities, programs, projects and proposals need to be geared to serve the interests of the people, to respond to their hopes and aspirations and to make them both agents and beneficiaries of regional cooperation.

At the 14th SAARC summit last year the South Asian leaders reiterated not only their commitment to the principles and objectives enshrined in the Charter of the Association but also agreed, keeping uppermost in mind the welfare of the peoples of the region, ‘to build a partnership for prosperity and work towards shared economic cooperation, regional prosperity, a better life for the people of South Asia, and equitable distribution of benefits and opportunities of integration among the peoples and the nations’.

The adoption of the Social Charter has been a major achievement of SAARC. It is true that ‘the implementation of the Social Charter needs focused attention.’

The South Asian leaders have called upon civil society organisations to play a vital role in driving forward the implementation of the Social Charter’ (The New Delhi Declaration, 2007).

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