The 42nd meeting of the standing committee of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) took place in Nepal in mid-March 2016. India’s External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, called for greater cooperation among member nations to increase overall prosperity and decrease poverty rates.
According to The Times of India, Swaraj emphasized the importance of regional integration and cooperation for the benefit of all: “We continue to face significant challenges in delivering food security, health, nutrition and education to our peoples. All this goes to show that while we are doing well individually, we have not been able to unleash our collective strength effectively. We must think innovatively and find solutions so that we may harness our economic complementarities and ensure a conducive environment for rapid growth.”
The SAARC comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. As a region, these South Asian countries have more people living under the poverty line than anywhere else in the world.
Swaraj acknowledged this fact in her speech, saying, “We must recognize that we have common enemies in poverty, illiteracy, terrorism and environmental degradation. We will need to fight these challenges together since we have a shared history and a shared destiny. Let us reach for it together.”
The historic tension between India and Pakistan has been one of the toughest barriers to regional integration among SAARC countries. Even so, new developments suggest that the relationship between the two countries may be improving.
During the summit, Swaraj met with Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Advisor, Sartaj Aziz, multiple times. Greater cooperation between India and Pakistan’s intelligence and criminal investigation agencies was a major topic of conversation between the two leaders.
In November 2016, the Indian Prime Minister will visit Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, for another SAARC summit. This visit could lead to an even greater relief of the tensions in India-Pakistan relations.
An article in The Indian Express asserts that the “SAARC countries have been held hostage by India-Pak tensions.” Thus, a stronger relationship between India and Pakistan would benefit the entire region.
India’s Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar, has stated that only when India-Pakistan relations improve “will building a peaceful, secure and prosperous neighborhood yield rich dividends for all SAARC member states.”
Reducing regional poverty rates hinges upon greater economic integration among South Asian countries. Stronger India-Pakistan ties, along with increased cooperation in South Asia can help increase regional prosperity, secure peace and reduce poverty.
– Clara Wang