Pune: Vice President Hamid Ansari Saturday said the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, despite sharing social and cultural affinities, have not done enough to prosper as a regional bloc.
Addressing the inauguration of an international relations conference organised by Symbiosis International University in Pune, he also said India, in its endeavour for pursuing commercial and strategic interests in South Asia, must balance it with the “objective of becoming a regional and global actor of relevance and significance in a fast changing world”.
Speaking on the theme “India and Development Partnerships in Asia and Africa: Towards a New Paradigm”, the vice president, a diplomat, said while other regional blocs like the ASEAN, African Union, Gulf Cooperation Council, have been fostering closer regional integration, SAARC has been tardy in its progress.
South Asia is home to almost one-fifth of humanity and two-fifths of the world’s poor. South Asia counts for roughly three percent of the world gross domestic product bus has only around 1.7 percent share in global trade. It is confronted with major developmental challenges of poverty, inequality, illiteracy, disease, hunger and homelessness, he said.
The region could form joint and cooperative effort in addressing its common challenges.
“India’s large and growing economy offers to the states of the region a profitable destination for their exports and a competitive source for their imports, investments and technology. Enhanced regional cooperation could also help in management of natural resources such as water,” he stressed.
South Asian economies are least integrated, with intra-regional trade stagnating at around 5.76 percent of the total trade, compared with 61.83 percent in the European Union.
He said India’s experience of bilateral development partnerships in South Asia, like Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal, is indicative of its capacity to undertake regional cooperation.
“In any such endeavour, the immediate or shorter term commercial, foreign policy and strategic interests must be balanced with our longer term objective of becoming a regional and global actor of relevance and significance in a fast-changing world.”
He said that an “attitude of neglect or immobility to our immediate neighbourhood will not enhance our capacity and may deny us options”.
“Global observers have also noted our policy approach of developing cooperation with other regional organisations in and around Asia and have contrasted it with our studied neglect of SAARC,” he noted.
Ansari said India needs to have a “judicious mix of vision and realism” in its longer-term policy options and initiatives. While the vision for India is “of a major emerging power working for a more equitable, peaceful and cooperative world order”, realism “necessitates that we strike the right balance in the hierarchy of national interests”.
“One ingredient of this hierarchy is a peaceful neighbourhood. An effective way of achieving it is through mutually beneficial cooperation with neighbours, an endeavour in which India is best placed to set the pace. Immobility, however, is not a desirable option,” the vice president said.