SAARC and the sovereignty bargain

The natural geography of the region, so abruptly abridged by the processes of recent history and the designs of states, reasserted itself with a vengeance. It made so many of the boundaries we have constructed seem both brittle and hollow. Where exactly did the earthquake occur? The short answer is easy: Kashmir. But even the naming of 'Kashmir' cannot be done without problems arising; the area cannot be identified in its wholeness, without various qualifiers. How does one most efficiently organise relief? Clearly, India and Pakistan had to use each other's territories and resources. Fortunately, in this instance the leaders did take recourse to history to abridge the demands of humanitarianism; borders temporarily melted faster that anyone could have dared to hope. But can this experience be a catalyst to help with the recognition that, if the countries of Southasia fight regional interdependence, they are fighting against their own interests? Can we recognise that our borders and restrictions, our mutual mistrusts and fears, harm no one but the people in the states of the Subcontinent? Does greater regional integration have a future in the Subcontinent?

In examining the future prospects for the SAARC organisation, it is worth considering the conditions under which successful regional integration can take place in Southasia. If the SAARC process is to be successful, it will have to be based on hard-headed economic and political logic – not sentimentalism and rhetoric. What are the conditions that promote regional integration? Do these conditions exist here? We must distinguish between regional cooperation and regional integration. The former refers simply to a type of cooperation between governments. Regional integration, on the other hand, is the unleashing of a process that binds the societies and economies of neighbouring countries much more closely together. On one level, any project of greater regional integration involves what are called 'sovereignty tradeoffs'. Integration often requires the establishment and maintenance of structures of authority and institutions that surpass national boundaries. The European Union is a prominent example of an entity that possesses wide-ranging, supranational prerogatives. What are the reasons justifying sovereignty tradeoffs? Under what conditions can we expect these tradeoffs to take place?

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Himal Southasian