Pebbles and boulders

  • Small nations can use their cultural and moral advantage to promote friendship among larger nations
- Dr Sundar Mani Dixit
Pebbles and boulders

Nov 27, 2014-

In most cases, organisations are formed with good intentions. The founders visualise results of the greatest benefits. Saarc was founded thus, for the mutual benefit of all of South Asia’s peoples. There was a vision of unity and friendship amongst close neighbours building up towards mutually beneficial projects, rapid development of member states and all their peoples, irrespective of disparities in geographic size, economies, populations, or religions. In unity is strength and in today’s world, where economies are bringing nations together, and even uniting them, Saarc surely was the way forward for this region—an important vision then, and more so now.

Many plans of good intentions have been made within Saarc in the past, although many remain unimplemented so far. Heads of government have met many times since the regional grouping’s inception. A Secretariat was established with its headquarters in Kathmandu, an honour for Nepal. Thus, on the surface, things are going in the right direction. The show has been there for everyone to see, but are we satisfied with the substance?

A matter of necessity

For any group of nations to come together, there has to be a strong centripetal force to keep them together. There needs to be something that makes it imperative for the nations to stay together. It could be a political philosophy, a military necessity, a religious (even fanatical) belief, or simple economics. The European Union is one carved out of economic necessity, despite the fact that the states within waged the Hundred Year War and two World Wars. Among all binders, those arising out of economic necessity seem ideal, playing the role of our Sun keeping the planets together. But in real world situations, there is friction, enmity, or worse, clandestine proxy wars utilising terrorism to torment each other. A climate for cooperation cannot be possible in such a scenario. This is one of the main reasons why Saarc has not been able to deliver on the goods.

We must not shy away from taking the bull by the horns when such an opportunity arises. When the heads of state and government meet, as they do at all Saarc Summits, they must sit together and besides discussing niceties and toasting to each others’ long lives, they must be able to say, “Gentlemen, you two are fighting each other and have flash points at your borders all the time. This is hurting Saarc. Please, lets sit down, talk seriously, and see if we can all use our collective heads to lesion or eliminate your problems. Let us take this very seriously as our organisation cannot move forward in a united fashion while fuelled by mistrust between member nations. We will not be able to achieve our goal of common good for our peoples.”

This is what the 18th Saarc Summit in Kathmandu ought to have done, but there is little evidence of it. Sweet talk will not get us anywhere concrete as things stand today.

India and Pakistan are the biggest powers in Saarc, as nuclear powers, and they are not even on talking terms at the moment. How do we expect implementation of even small schemes, let alone grandiose ones? Media reports have stated that some Bangladesh nationals were recently found to be making bombs in Burdwan of West Bengal with the intention of targeting Indian leaders. In a tense situation like this, how will it help build trust amongst member-states? Nepal’s problems regarding Bhutanese refugees is a major humanitarian and sore point with Bhutan, an issue that does not appear to come up at the joint meeting of the heads of states and government.

Bilateral benefits

The pertinent question is, what is the value of these meetings? As it appears at the moment, the meeting so far has been more for the bilateral benefit of individual states than for thrashing out multilateral problems plaguing the region. Nepal appears to have won Indian PM Narendra Modi’s goodwill and the opportunity for quite a few bilateral benefits for both nations.

Still, the immediate major crisis situation in Saarc has to be tackled and even small states can assist larger neighbours. Nepal, for example, should have taken the initiative in leading a separate session to get all member states to discuss their mutual problems (against each other), looking for amicable solutions, and getting commitments from those nations towards ending major hostilities. Instead of waiting another four years at the very least, a working meeting of all member-states should occur within a few months to see if promises are kept and if any progress is made. This approach by Saarc member-states should rationally be the start for any talk of cooperation or grandiose schemes.  

Small states

Often, solutions to apparently insurmountable problems are very simple, almost defying beliefs. The US and China during Mao Zedong’s regime were universes apart, until a simple game of ping-pong (table tennis) brought about a sea change in thinking. As unbelievable as it was at the time, it still happened and it helped create a thaw in relations.

The role of small states like Nepal when dealing with much larger states in any regional organisation should be first to use its cultural and moral heritage and commitment to promote peace and friendship amongst all members. Then only can they expect fruitful results from this seemingly friendly, but often ineffective, cooperation. May this lesson guide the present and future of Saarc.

Dixit is a physician based in Patan, Lalitpur

Published: 28-11-2014 09:20

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