SAARC Parliament and the pursuit of
Stable peace in South Asia

M.L. Sondhi and Shrikant Paranjpe

From Conflict to Cooperation in the South Asian Region

The point of departure for this study is the recognition that the legislative dimension is an important but neglected framework condition for regional dynamism in South Asia. The First Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians in July 1995 in New Delhi could be the beginning of a workable strategy to utilise legislative tools for moving the Subcontinent away from adversarial framework conditions to conflict resolution and creative problem solving.  The Presiding Officers of the legislatures of the SAARC countries can help to sensitise public opinion in the region to the common ground of their legislative agendas which lies in ensuring that governments are accountable for their actions to the respective publics in terms of basic human needs.  By setting high standards in the domestic arenas for debate and public policy decisions in legislatures and by faithful adherence to norms for the effective use of the democratic process and rejecting the use of violence as a means to pursue political aspirations, the Speakers of the SAARC legislatures will help to break down stereotypes created by the volatile political environment and nationalistic and ethnic-communal frictions.  The Association of Speakers and Members of Parliament of SAARC has the potential to become the vehicle for confidence building and for overcoming systemic constraints which have hitherto prevented SAARC from promoting the synergy between common security, economic liberalisation, enhancement of human rights and resolution of social conflicts.   

The difficulties in reaching consensual decisions in South Asia are aggravated by the lack of inputs from individuals and organisations (including business organisations) which could help create an atmosphere of credibility and confidence. Strategies adopted by the executive organs have failed to reflect the overall homogeneity of South Asia and have accentuated “quick fixes” which have come in the way of pan-South Asian unification.  In a brilliant study Joseph S. Nye has highlighted aspects which deserve attention in any creative undertaking for regional integration:

  1.  functional linkages of tasks
  2. increasing transactions
  3. deliberate linkages and coalitions
  4. formation of groups at the regional level
  5. involvement of external actors
  6. regional ideology and intensification of regional identity
  7. elite socialisation

A regional parliament, but its very nature may offer new types of political interactions which would be an important condition for increasing transactions, linkages and coalitions.  The involvement of the highest level elites would be essential to the success of the SAARC Parliament. The professional, as opposed to political expertise, which the SAARC framework utilises, cannot relate it to the growing number of interest and influential groups in the subcontinent, and this comes in the way of building both a regional ideology and a regional identity.  One of the anticipated and central roles of a SAARC Parliament would be to combine political expertise with the variety of skills outside government departments and agencies which are available in the South Asian countries under conditions of social pluralism and liberalised market economies.  Thus it would not be burdened by the mind-sets which have been imposed by the existing and relatively closed circles of decision-making within which the SAARC machinery has been permitted to operate so far.  By going beyond the bureaucratic-technical parameters of the SAARC system and introducing political, moral and cultural dimensions of regionalism, the regional parliament would be well placed to provide a flexible and progressive political ambience, which in turn would produce a more supportive environment for “neo-nationalisms motivated by economic aspirations to replace old nationalisms dependent on militarism and confrontation.”

Regionalism, Regional State System and South Asian Regional Cooperation

Regionalism has always remained an elusive force in Asian history.  Pandit Nehru had attempted to channelise the ‘reawakening of Asia’ through the Asian Relations Conference (Delhi, 1947), to be followed up with the conference on Indonesia (Delhi 1949), the Colombo Conference (1954) and the Bandung Conference (1955), Regionalism appeared to have taken root and spread into Afro-Asian unity at Bandung.  Bandung however, was also to become the last Afro-Asian Conference to be held.  A futile attempt to revive the spirit of Bandung in the 1960s with a conference in West Asia or North Africa clearly indicated the withering away of the idea of regionalism which had taken birth in the immediate post-war period.

Regionalism in the late forties and early fifties was based on three cardinal principles: independence in the formulation of a world view, a peace approach to international conflict and anti-colonialism.  These principles had in fact been developed in course of the Indian independence struggle.  They had found expression in a number of meetings of the Indian National Congress and also in the writings of Pandit Nehru.  He articulated the essence of these thoughts in a speech on the All India Radio on the 7th September 1946.

The independent approach to foreign policy was a concept that was firmly rooted in the nationalist struggle.  At one level it represented the affirmation of sovereignty by a nation and at another deeper level it was the will to carve out its own destiny in the new world.  This latter meaning carried an additional significance in the peculiar world order of the post war period that had divided the world into two blocs.  Of equal relevance was the meaning that in this truly global world order Eurocentric world views would not be accepted by the emergent civilizations.  Nehru’s approach at the Asian Relations Conference carried this conviction of a new Asian identity that was to emerge as an independent world view.  Built into this concept of independence was the idea of non-intervention by extra-regional powers.  This idea was articulated more clearly in subsequent years when Asia started to experience the spillover effect of the Cold War in the form of alliance formations.  It was basically an affirmation of the principle of responsibility by the regional powers of the will and the capability to manage their own affairs.  It negates the power vacuum theory that seeks to undermine this very capability of ‘small’ powers to manage their affairs.  This approach confronts the concept of ‘responsibility of great powers’ that had come to be accepted as the only approach to world order.  It seeks to supplement it with a regional order at a politico-security and perhaps economic level.

A peace approach to international affairs joined hands with the concept of an independent understanding of world affairs to develop a better philosophical base for broadening the range of choices regarding problems of global peace and security.  At one level it sought to undercut the entire basis of the Cold War as the governing image of the post-war world.  In doing so it evoked the classical usage of a diplomacy of mediation, of neutrality, of dialogue and the like.  Indian mediation in Korea is one such example.  Here, the attempt was to project emergent Afro-Asia as an independent identity that could, by virtue of its geo-political distance from the core of the cold war, project an entirely new concept and vision for the approach to peace and security.  It sought to show that security concepts based on the principle of the triumph of one socio-political system over the other were intrinsically flawed.  Herein operated the other level of meaning.  Bordering almost on the idealist model, but at the same time retaining a realist view, the peace approach sought to identify peace and security with the problems of development in the world.  It therefore emerged as a critique of the arms race and consequent conflict.  It sought to identify the problems of socio-economic development as critical to the human race.  It did not give up the concept of nationalism, yet it sought to cooperate across frontiers to evolve a common approach to peace and security.    

Anti-colonialism was in a sense an offshoot of these approaches, and sought to project a political programme to tackle the then remaining colonial situation in parts of Africa and Asia, but it gradually become less relevant to the Asia of the sixties.  Nevertheless, in the formative years of Asian independence it served as a rallying point of regionalism.

The process initiated at Bandung, of broadening the field of regionalism, did not receive much support.  The years from Bandung to Belgrade (1961) are years of a gradual shift from regionalism based on peace approach and independence to nonalignment that used the same fundamental pillars for its world view.  The roots of this change lay in the heyday of regionalism.  One was the fact that the traditional role of organised violence continued to hold ground and two, extra-regional powers developed entrenched interests in Asia.

Regional State System

A regional state system normally comprises four sets of actors (a) the hegemon or aspiring hegemon, (b) bargainers or aspiring partners, (c) peripheral dependents and (d) external challengers.  Regional hegemons are states which possess power sufficient to dominate a regional system. A bargainer is a state which possesses enough power to bargain effectively with the hegemon, but by itself cannot substitute for the hegemon.  The periphery powers are essentially small powers.  They hold a ‘nuisance value to the core (hegemon) power in that they can bargain in times of a crisis.  Finally, all regional systems are influenced by the interests of extra-regional powers.

In the present conflictual framework of international relations regional state systems would have to rely on the creation of a stable pattern or order in their interactions both within and without the region for their ‘success’.  A “peace order” would imply the absence of overt and covert conflict, stability and a cooperative development effort.  The focus here is on the Third World Periphery powers and not on the European model of the EEC.

The above analysis of order in the regional state system is based on the traditional realistic interpretation of the geopolitical situation that presumes the existence of a sovereign nation-state system and the components that go with it.

The new alternative can be visualised at two levels.  One is the shift of focus from national policy, State, Government and such institutions of the Westphalia system to human interest and people at large.  Such an approach would focus on human needs and foster concepts of socio-economic justice.  The basic value would be fulfilment of human needs, the means of value-realisation would be expanding the non-military sector, and the beneficiaries would be the people at large.

The second level is the world order approach.  The focus now shifts beyond the nation-state or the region to issues of survival, problems of violence and morality.  The geopolitical focus is the global community; problems are seen as inter-related structural or systemic issues and their analysis is value-oriented.  The primary sectors would range from individuals to functional international organisations.  This projected human world community (that goes beyond the concept of world government) would ensure a high performance in implementing such values as peace, economic well being, social justice, and ecological balance.

The understanding of the South Asian system in the present study would revolve around the following tenets: South Asia as identified through the SAARC is a compact area of geographically proximate states interacting with each other and sharing certain common bonds of history, culture, etc.  India, by virtue of its geographic dimension and economic and military strength occupies the central position in the region.  Indian aspirations to leadership are born out of this feature.  South Asia, minus India, has two types of powers, of which Pakistan is one major power that can limit Indian aspirations.  Pakistan’s own limitations come from geographic location and economic-military development.  Pakistan geographically has been on the periphery of South Asia.  Economically and militarily it has not been able to outrun India.  After 1971 when East Pakistan became a new independent country (Bangladesh), Pakistan’s major power status was further reduced.  But Pakistan with the help of outside powers has been able to check Indian aspirations.  Given various limitations, Pakistan plays the role of a ‘major partner’ for India in South Asia.  The other types of South Asian powers including countries of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives, are small powers in size but not without significance.  These small states constitute a ‘nuisance value’ to the core states in that they have a bargaining power in times of crisis.  Such a bargain is possible in both cases of by use of an extra-regional power or by use of other regional powers. 

Yet another dimension of South Asian politics is the role played by extra-regional powers.  This role can be viewed in a variety of situations: the Cold War period had seen the evolution of alliances as institutional solutions to security; the intervention in regional conflicts to aid one regional power against the other; the use of a variety of methods to extend the sphere of influence in the region, and so on.  In the present context there is need to understand the dynamics of the interests of the United States, the Soviet Union (now Russia) and China in South Asia, and the extent to which the countries concerned have been ‘used’.

Looking back into the history of South Asia,  one can identify two important “models” sponsored by India for building regional order in South Asia.  The first was the 1947 model that based itself on the inherent advantages of the birth of South Asia in 1947, and the second, the 1971-72 model based on the status achieved from a war.  By the very virtue of its size and consequent potential power India had gained the status of a regional power in South Asia in 1947.  However, this status, based essentially on potential and not real power, came to be challenged in the aftermath of the Indian defeat in the 1962 Sino-Indian War. 

The period 1969 to 1971 was a period of major upheaval for South Asia.  Three important trends led to the climax of the events of 1971-72.  The American interest in Asia was being reassessed in the form of the Guam Doctrine.  American disenchantment in Vietnam, the need to restrict Soviet entry in this area and the opening of a dialogue with China are all elements that had their impact on South Asia.  Pakistan played a major role in the Sino-American breakthrough, creating the spectre of an anti-India tie up of Washington-Beijing-Islamabad.  The second trend was the resulting drift towards each other of the Soviet Union and India.  The Soviet Union, for its global compulsions of countering the Chinese, now aided by the US, was willing to invest heavily in its Indian relationship.

The 1971-72 model is based on the recognition of India as a regional power.  Pakistan’s acceptance of this position came at the Simla Conference (1972) held to solve the problems created by the war.  By accepting the principle of bilateral diplomacy in all future interactions, Pakistan accepted India’s long standing demand.  The 1971-72 model was nevertheless, based on two important assumptions.  One was the nature of the legitimacy India was to be accorded for this position from outside powers.  Both the US and the Soviet Union appear to have granted this legitimacy to India.  India’s success in opening up a dialogue with China indicates a similar legitimacy from China.  Such a granting of legitimacy also meant that they would not interfere in South Asia in a manner that would threaten Indian interests.  In other words, Indian success in keeping its position would really depend upon keeping this region free of extra-regional intervention.  The second assumption flows from the first.  India as a regional power would take upon itself the responsibility of installing a feeling of security in the nations of south Asia.

South Asian Regional Co-operation

In November 1980 President Zia ur Rehman of Bangladesh sent to different countries of South Asia a ‘Working Paper on Regional Cooperation in South Asia’.  This document represented the first comprehensive attempt made by a country other than India, to establish an alternative governing image for South Asia of the eighties.  Its importance lies in the manner in which the whole proposal has been evolved.  The successful establishment of the South Asian Regional Cooperation (SARC) structure in 1983 indicates a new developing trend in South Asia.

The Bangladesh Working Paper was clear about the objectives of the forum to be evolved in South Asia.  The institutional framework suggested was in conformity with the participating states’ commitment to nonalignment.  The paper showed an adequate awareness of pressing bilateral disputes in South Asia and suggested that the areas selected for cooperation be those which would mutually benefit all the countries, irrespective of their existing economic disparities.  The areas identified for cooperation include: Telecommunications, Meteorology, Transport, Shipping, Tourism, Agricultural/Rural Sector, Joint Ventures, Market Promotion of Select Commodities, Scientific and Technological, Educational and Technical and Cultural.  Further clarification of the working paper was also done in a communication sent by the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry to the South Asian Governments.  This communication, following closely on the heels of the original paper, examined in detail the framework of the proposal.  The following points were made about the original proposal:

 i)                    The core issue was the political implications of the proposal.  On the one hand, there existed natural apprehensions of the smaller nations that the concept of South Asian regionalism would formalize / institutionalize leadership of the dominant neighbour in the region, given the asymmetry of the power distribution in South Asia.  India could then become first among equals.  On the other hand, such a move is conceived as a concentration of the smaller powers, a ganging up to apply pressure or to isolate India.  The Bangladesh objective is to recognize the realities of the situation and to find a via media in which all states could live without being vassals or in a permanent state of confrontation.  It was in fact a historic effort to build a relationship among equals.

 ii)                  The idea is not an attempt to regionalise bilateral issues but to seek to identify those areas of cooperation that are truly regional in character.

 iii)                No rigid terms of reference or specific time frame within which the idea should mature have been fixed.

 iv)                Bangladesh welcomed ideas and views on the proposal.  This initiative was a nucleus from which a beginning could be made.

 v)                  The key word governing evaluation of cooperation is mutual benefit.

 vi)                Decisions would obviously be based on consensus.  Bangladesh believed that once a climate of trust and cooperation was created it would be easier to resolve bilateral problems bilaterally, as demonstrated by ASEAN.

 In the Charter of SAARC adopted at the Dhaka Summit (1985), the Heads of State / Government expressed their desire to promote “peace, stability, amity and progress in the region through strict adherence to the principles of the UN Charter and Non-alignment”.  Particular stress was laid on the “respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, national independence, non-use of force and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and peaceful settlement of disputes”.  The summit participants felt that the objectives of peace, freedom, social justice and economic prosperity were best achieved in the South Asian region by fostering mutual understanding, good neighbourly relations and meaningful co-operation among the member States.  The Heads of State / Government expressed their conviction that regional co-operation was mutually beneficial, desirable and necessary for promoting the welfare and improving the quality of life of the people of the region.  They also felt that economic, social and technical co-operation among the countries of South Asia would contribute significantly to national and collective self-reliance.

The Charter contains ten Articles, and covers within its ambit objectives, principles, institutional and financial arrangements and general provisions.

The SAARC declaration reveals the recognition of some important constraints on the cooperation possible in South Asia.  Many of these constraints had been given expression to in the original Bangladesh Working Paper and the supplementary paper also issued by Bangladesh.  There was thus the need to restrain India from regaining the first among equals position and consequently the call for equality and unanimity in decision making.  On the other hand the fear of the forum becoming a platform for ganging up of small states against India was also to be avoided.  For this and other reasons bilateral issues were kept away from the SAARC.  All this is not to underestimate the importance of SAARC.  It implied two things for South Asia: one, that there existed a concrete alternative to the 1971-72 model of the India – sponsored order for South Asia.  This model was essentially based on the premise President Zia had taken pains to make clear: the weak are not exploited and the strong do not dominate.  The attempt at democratising order in South Asia was thus given an institutional setting.  Two, by keeping bilateral (and contentious) issues outside the scope of SAARC recognition appears to have been given to the Indian demand of bilateral diplomacy.  In either case, it is important to note that SAARC has thrust on South Asia an alternative governing image for the 1980s.  It is equally important to note that the success or failure of this effort would depend heavily on Indian responses to this effort.  SAARC without Indian cooperation would collapse into being what Bangladesh itself described as a ‘ganging up of smaller powers’.  

SAARC had adopted the Nordic model of cooperation, wherein the political sovereignty of cooperating states is not disturbed in the process of integration.  SAARC sought to be a platform for the establishment of cooperative relationships in South Asia.  Given the political antagonisms in the region, SAARC adopted an incrementalist approach of keeping contentious politico-security issues outside the scope of SAARC, and, a focus on economic, cultural, social and other areas. 

 The first summit meeting of Dhaka (1985) that established the organisation also confirmed the broad areas in which to consolidate cooperation.  These included agriculture, rural development, telecommunications, meteorology, health and population, transport, scientific and technological areas, postal services, sports, arts and culture.  SAARC countries made relatively encouraging progress through the Bangalore (1986), Kathmandu (1987) and Islamabad (1988) Summits.  The Kathmandu summit created the Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism.  This subject borders on the politico-security area.  Yet it was well received by the member countries.

SAARC went through some uncertain years when the Colombo summit had to be postponed due to the Sri Lankan reluctance to hold the Summit.  The Sri Lankan attempt to involve a bilateral matter like the implementation of the India-Sri Lanka agreement and the subsequent dispatch of the IPKF represented a setback to the spirit of SAARC.  This uncertainty was reflected at the Male (1990) and the Colombo (1991) Summits.  The postponement of the Dhaka Summit of 1982 by a year was caused by the spillover of disturbances in South Asia after the Ayodhya incident.

It is in the post Cold-War period that SAARC presents new perceptions and understanding of the problems of cooperation.  The Dhaka summit reaffirms the need to liberalise trade as early as possible in a manner that would be mutually beneficial and in this context, has established SAPTA.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) finalised the south Asia Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) at its Seventh Summit meeting in 1993 at Dhaka.  SAPTA was the first step taken towards formalisation of economic cooperation in South Asia.  It represented the political willingness on part of the South Asian leadership to proceed towards the economic integration of the region.

The creation of SAPTA is the first stage of the process of the formation of a trade / economic bloc.  The agreement is based on the principle of overall reciprocity and mutuality of advantages so as to benefit all the SAARC countries, taking into account their respective levels of economic and industrial growth.  It aims to promote and sustain mutual trade and economic cooperation.  SAPTA is to include all products, manufactures and commodities in their raw, semi-processed and processed forms.

SAPTA would include arrangements relating to tariffs, para- tariffs, non-tarrif measures and direct trade measures. Contracting states may negotiate on a product-by-product basis, across-the-board tariff reductions, sectorial basis or seek direct trade measures.  Special consideration is to be given to requests from Least Developed States of SAARC for technical assistance and cooperation arrangements.

The second stage in the development of trade arrangement is in agreement on free trade.  It constitutes opening up of markets by not levying tariffs for inter-state trade.  The North American Free Trade Arrangement (NAFTA) of Canada, United States and Mexico can act as an example.

 The ASEAN countries also have established the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 1991 for creating a common market in 15 years.

The third stage in this process represents a shift from decision-making based on predominantly economic concerns to political compulsions.  The process may begin with such politico-economic decisions like the creation of a customs union and then proceed towards the establishment of a common political perspective.  The Benelux countries formed such a union.  The ASEAN refuses entry to countries of dissimilar political perspectives.  The creation of a monetary union is a further step in this direction.  The Maastricht Treaty (1991) sought a political and monetary union including common foreign and security policies and a currency union.  The European Community, despite its problems, presents a model of such a process of integration.

The Eighth SAARC Summit (New Delhi 1995) resolved to ensure that the SAPTA is brought into operation be the end of 1995.  The fast changing international economic environment, the creation of trade blocs, and establishment of World Trade Organisation have necessitated a more rapid time frame for economic co-operation in South Asia.  The New Delhi summit provided a positive thrust to the idea of economic integration of the region. 

The Concept of a SAARC Parliament

The problem of the break up of the order of the seventies focused on the problems faced by the core power India in the South Asian system.  Indian effort at retaining the initiative in the politico-security field in south Asia forced India to ensure that the SAARC proposal remained limited in its scope.  Rejection of the idea in totality would bring the accusation of hegemonic behaviour for India.  An enthusiastic acceptance would also spell danger of erosion of India’s political authority.  India tried to escape this situation by keeping the SAARC out to the political security network.  The question remains as to how long this can work.

In the case of Pakistan, India’s problem is more fundamental.  India and Pakistan had tried to evolve a framework of interaction through the talks at Tashkent in 1966 and later at Simla in 1972.  The No War Pact proposal of Pakistan and the Peace and Friendship Treaty proposed by India were further attempts at restructuring a framework in the 1980s.  The problem transcends purely bilateral considerations as due attention has also to be given to threats to security from elsewhere – be it Afghanistan for Pakistan or China for India.  The problem thus has to be viewed from a proper sub-regional perspective.  It is this consideration that brings us to the wider problem of the development of an order in South Asia.  If order is to depend on military stability the perception of such a stability would depend on the perceptions held by the individual countries about the threats to their national security.  It would then imply that such a military stability must operate at two levels, viz. the immediate sub-region or region and the global level.  The former refers to the acceptance or non-acceptance of a given intra-regional distribution of power and the latter to the conflicting interests as and when they impinge on that particular region.  The logical solution to this would be acceptance of a low level participation by extra-regional powers.  Such participation would restrain any perceived hegemonic threat from a big regional power over a smaller one.  Yet such participation does not guarantee elimination of great power conflict in the region due to mutual conflictual perceptions of interest.  It is with this particular dilemma of the utility or otherwise of extra regional help that all problems of regionalism tend to come to a stop.  

The problems India faces in the 1990’s are of restructuring an order pattern for South Asia so as to go beyond the questions posed earlier; the attempts to contain the scope of the SAARC, the counter proposal of a more comprehensive Peace and Friendship Treaty, the talk of the containing validity of the Simla Agreement are all efforts that have a common trend.  It appears that India is keen to evolve a Simla-like politico-security solution independent of SAARC as a long term solution for South Asia.  Such a strategy would imply that the order pattern in South Asia would evolve at two levels: the politico-strategic level where India would be able to continue as a core or pivotal power and a socio-economic-cultural level where a ‘democratic principle of interaction would operate in the form of SAARC.


The international scene has undergone momentous changes since the East European revolution and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.  Changes that have taken place in the concepts of power and ideology have a bearing on South Asian policies.

The cold war logic that the military was the ultimate source of power has given way to economic factors.  The concept of power itself has now become relative in nature.  There has also been a revival of theories of interdependence.  Joseph Nye writing on “Soft Power” or James Rosenau’s work on “Turbulence in World Politics” is representative of this change.  Issues like slower growth rates, structural problems that confront some of the competitive economic systems, mounting deficit, etc. are emerging as dominant concerns today.

These changes have also transformed the traditional alliance patterns.  At one level such regional organisations like European Community, ASEAN, and NAFTA demand attention in a world that is shifting towards a spectre of trade wars.  At another level nongovernmental organisations focusing on human issues like environment, ecology and human rights are taking centre stage.

The emerging new world order spells problems for the Third World in two issue areas: problems related to development and changing security concerns.

The lack of financial resources and the need for new technologies constitutes the crux of developmental problems of the Third World.  Developing countries cannot borrow from commercial sources and hence the need for foreign investment.  The key infrastructural areas like power, transport, communication, banking and market facilities need to be developed at a globally competitive level to attract foreign investment.  In the case of India direct foreign investment in the core sector from August 1991 to July 1993 came to about 87% of the total investment.  But on the other hand there is likely to be a significant decrease in the total quantum of aid available globally.  It was calculated that between 1986 and 1990 of the total investment done globally, South and South East Asia received about 20% at an annual average.  In the post-1990 era the claimants to investment have multiplied.  NAFTA may direct American aid to Mexico and Central and South America: East Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States have opened up for investment; South Africa in its post-apartheid phase has an attractive image and China is viewed as a major investment area.  The new result is likely to be a lesser quantum of money available for South Asia.  Implicit in this is the need to be more competitive to attract this scarce aid.

The drama involved in the Indo-Russian deal on the cryogenic engine purchase is an indicator of the curbs on new technologies that the developed world is likely to impose.  India had a similar experience with the United States in the super-computer deal.  This is an age where almost all new technologies in the areas of electronics, space, nuclear and materials sciences are likely to be classified as those of “dual use”.  The Third World developing countries are likely to face stiff opposition due to the perceived threats of proliferation of technologies and their possible ill-uses.

In the area of security concerns, internal security has emerged as one of the key threats to security in the developing world.  In South Asia, for example, problems labelled as insurgency, low intensity conflicts and terrorism are far more serious than the possibilities of a border war.  These problems have their roots in socio-cultural, economic and political causes that are usually located within one’s political system.  Consequently, the primary responsibility for these problems remains one’s own.  Regional conflicts can only aggravate these problems and in the long run be mutually harmful to both the conflicting parties.

It is these dilemmas of the problems of development and security in the post-cold war period that need to be the focus of the SAARC debate in the years to come.  The rationale for cooperation in SAARC was based on the technique of incrementalism.  It had avoided contentious issues to ensure that a dialogue begins between the states of the region.  Except the foray into cooperation for tackling terrorism SAARC has avoided politico-security issues.  The Dhaka summit of 1993 is significant because it represents the first deliberate effort on the part of the leadership in South Asia to chart out a definite path of action that is both a requirement of the times and presents a logical direction for cooperation. SAPTA cannot remain an adhoc effort to tackle the oncoming global economic crisis.  It has to be the first step towards the eventual integration of South Asia at the economic and subsequently, political level.  The debate may be on the time schedule of this process, it cannot be on the content of the issue.

The eventual development or order in South Asia would have to keep the following considerations in mind:

 1.                  Any proposed order pattern cannot be based exclusively on military considerations: political understanding between the nations is an important determinant.  A military agreement for security solutions in South Asia may be conceivable but is not feasible.  Collective defence agreements cannot be created due to lack of a cogently perceived threat, common to all countries.  Thus the order pattern would have to be worked out in areas beyond security in the military sense and thus focus on essentially political perceptions of the countries concerned.

 2.                  The order pattern need not erode, but should in fact restore the principle of sovereignty.  One of the important inducers to regionalism has been the need of small nations to project their independent identity.  In the context of South Asia, a regional order pattern would thus have to take care that the smaller states in the order do not suffer under bigger regional powers.  In other words, this signifies that the independent identity of the smaller nations can and should be channelled through a regional order pattern and that the order itself takes the responsibility of preserving their identity. 

 3.                  As a step towards political understanding, efforts should be made to create a congenial atmosphere through economic and socio-cultural contacts.  This can be implemented through greater intra-regional trade, and increased and easy flow of communications, information and travel.  SAARC’s efforts in this direction are based on the policy that the spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation generated through regional cooperation would eventually pave the way for solving bilateral problems.

 4.                  The effect of the global environment on regional problems should not be ignored.  The existent danger of politico-military intervention by Great Powers also cannot be ignored.  Channels to either which reduce or divert such a competition in non-lethal fields could be tried.  In this context a good case can be made for a low, non-military, non-political participation by Great Powers in this region. Such participation can enable them to play a supporting role in economic development and modernisation.  Such a concept of low intensity participation would require freezing of nuclear potentials, freezing and gradual reduction of armed deployment, increased free trade, more joint ventures, multiplicity of international organisations, etc.

 5.                  Any regional structure cannot eliminate problems of its own structural distribution of power.  The core / pivotal power in this region would have to play a responsible role based on a mature understanding of rights and duties.  The privileges of Great Power status would have to be adequately tied with responsibilities towards maintenance of harmony in the order.

Blueprint for a Regional Legislature

At the level of South Asia, India would have to evolve a new political framework of interaction with the states of South Asia.  The new governing image would have to overcome the earlier reluctance towards a political dialogue at a multilateral level within South Asia.  SAARC today offers a unique forum for India to channelise the building up a new order in South Asia.  Such an order need not go to the extent of denying India a dominant position, but it can remain short of becoming hegemonic.

A broad-based popular parliamentary forum for South Asia can be formulated on the following principles:

1) that it is not dominated by any single nation-state in South Asia, (2) that it promotes the shared management of economic, technological, developmental, and environmental problems on an equitable basis; (3) that in dealing with political and security issues the operational norms of partnership and common security are adhered to; (4) that political trust and cooperation are fostered by legislative conflict resolution; and (5) that it unreservedly recognises the right to identity at local, national and regional levels and will foster solution of social conflicts through mutual understanding and non-violent means.

This section attempts to construct a tentative model of a SAARC Parliament.  This draws on the European experience that helped to harmonise the moral and political aspirations of different groups.  But this model remains South Asian in that it seeks to incorporate the fundamental principle of “unity in diversity” that has remained the key to national integration and harmony in India.  It recognises the unique social cultural and ethnic identity of diverse peoples of South Asia and yet seeks a thread of unity in that diversity.

The SAARC Parliament model envisages a two stage development.  The first stage is a transition stage where government influence over the organization will be high.  The second stage is the final phase where popular participation will increase.  Two fundamental concerns have been kept in mind in the institutionalisation of the political compulsions and economic imperatives.  The former would include the apathy or reluctance of governments to part with power and authority to what may appear a supra-national authority in the organization.  The latter refers to the urgent need to restructure the economies of these countries into a cooperative rather than competitive framework.  A look at the trade pattern figures would reveal the disparities and the need to shift expenditure patterns from defence-related expenditure to development-related expenditure.

The SAARC Parliament may be structured as follows:

Secretary-General:  This office would be held for a designated period of 5 or 6 years by a distinguished political personality. The method of appointment would essentially remain the same as at present.  This would be a consensus appointment and care would be taken to ensure that all countries get due representation.

Speaker of the SAARC Parliament:  The Parliament would be presided over by the Speaker elected by the members of the Parliament.  The Parliament would also be assisted by a Secretariat that can co-ordinate the activities of the Parliament.  The relationship between the Parliament as a primary deliberative body and the Council of Ministers as a basic executive / decision making body needs to be deliberated upon.  The position of the Secretary General would be that of the head of the SAARC.  His position vis--vis the Parliament may be comparable with that of a President in a Parliamentary system.  Here he would also be the Chairman of the Council of Ministers.  Since the Parliament is a deliberative body, its resolutions would be recommendatory and would be sent to the Council of Ministers for further action.

Council of Ministers:  The composition would be of seven members, one from each country.  Decisions would be taken on basis of unanimity and consensus.  This would be the executive body having the powers to make policy decisions.  In the first stage the members of the Council should be appointed by each government.  This sets at rest apprehension of the countries about their policies being implemented or otherwise.  During the first stage the Council may not be kept bound by the decisions of the Parliament which can act mainly as a deliberative body.  In the second stage, however, the Council would have to evolve a sense of political autonomy and not be totally dependent on the home government for policy directions.  This can be done by electing the Council members from the Parliament.  A new balance would also have to be struck whereby deliberations of the parliament would have to be taken note of by the Council.  The above structure represents only a preliminary outline of the SAARC Parliament.  It is, however, a deliberate attempt to project structural dimensions of the new proposed system within the political perspectives that demand attention today. 


                                              Council of Ministers                                                Parliament
                                              (recommendations)                 1.  Speaker (with Secretariat)
                                                                                                   2.  Committees (functional Committees
                                                                                                        and the Security Co-ordination,
                                                                                                        Common Foreign Policy and
                                                                                                        Economic Affairs Committees)

Parliament:  Unlike Europe, South Asia presents a peculiar geopolitical feature of having one large country and other small countries.  This precludes equality of representation at the numerical level.  Secondly diverse ethnic groups exist in almost all countries.  This further entails the need to make representation as broad based as possible.  A third significant problem is the differences in level of political modernization and democratisation in these countries.

If cooperation is to be enhanced in the regional legislature, the physical composition must be determined in a way that equally eschews Indian paternalism and intransigence on the part of Pakistan or Bangladesh.  The precondition of whole-hearted participation in building a regional community would be a membership pattern which provides an adequate political role by all the member states in the SAARC Parliament.  In this context the following requirements suggest themselves:

 1.                  India will be a willing participant in building the regional community if it is not denied an opportunity to orient its national interest towards wider regional concerns.  The fact that it does not have a co-equal in SAARC does not justify blackmailing India into undermining her interests in the regional legislature.

 2.                  India has to avoid one-sided approaches which would aggravate the feelings of other member stages that they are unequal partners in a common region.  The SAARC Parliament cannot equalise all these countries but its membership can be weighted in a manner which facilitates stable political solutions.

 3.                  The social, economic and political elites of South Asia have not gained their legitimate place in the international community chiefly on account of their failure to develop adequate cooperative activities of their own in the South Asian region.  Cultural relations and dialogue in the Subcontinent do not reflect the rich heritage of the region.  A fairly large membership of the regional parliament is necessary if it is to have an impact on the internal situation in member countries and the MSPs (Members of the SAARC Parliament) are to achieve self-esteem.  The SAARC Parliament’s potential for entirely new forms of political expression requires the underpinnings of a new system of political socialisation and circulation of elites.

The fixing of membership quotas for the SAARC Parliament will undoubtedly be a highly contentious issue with far reaching consequences for the future of the regional legislature.  However problematic, the following allocation is suggested primarily in view of its practical rationale:

Proposed Membership of SAARC Parliament

 India                                                                150
Sri Lanka
Total                                                               440

The existing situation necessitates a two or three stage development of the proposed SAARC Parliament.  In the first stage the Parliament would be composed of members elected / selected by respective governments or their parliaments.  In the second stage the members would have to come from a more representative electorate.  In countries like India and Pakistan the stage legislative may send representatives while in other countries their local bodies may elect members.  The methodology of representation would have to be the decision of the country concerned.

The Parliament would be essentially a deliberative body.  Its primary function would be to open issues for discussion.  It may be an excellent forum for regional / ethnic voices.  Legitimate aspirations for regional identity or greater fiscal autonomy that tend to get crushed under centralisation tendencies would not carry the label of “anti national” if they are voiced in a regional parliament.  In Kashmir, for example, there is a serious handicap that the Islamabad and the New Delhi governments have to overcome.  Both are trapped in their perceptions of a final solution for Kashmir.  It is precisely in such a context that SAARC legislature could recognise and accommodate Kashmir’s interest within the cohesive regional unity and break the present vicious circle, without infringing legal claims.

It is from this primary function that other functions take shape.  The Parliament would have the following powers:

 a)                 Informational:  it would have the right to be informed about developments in South Asia.

 b)                 Perhaps in the initial stage security-related information may be withheld.  But as the process of integration takes on a better shape and as cooperation in defence gets under way the scope of information may include security areas.

 c)                  Representational, grievance ventilation, educational and advisory role; A Parliament is essentially a popular institution.  It is a forum through which people can seek to realise their aspirations, urges, expectations, ventilate their grievances and difficulties.  Ventilation of grievances, can be the best mechanism for reducing tensions.  The human dimension of the problems of South Asia have a basic similarity.  A debate on those problems, of political or other nature, would enable one to appreciate the views not only of the respective governments but also of peoples.  Problems like Kashmir, Punjab, the Tamils of Sri Lanka, Chakmas of Bangladesh, Gorkhas can be debated in the SAARC Parliament from a variety of angles, without prejudice to existing territorial sovereignties.

 d)                 Crisis resolution: The emergence of Parliament as a potent conflict resolution mechanism and a leading mediating force in rational politics has been well accepted.  Debates and discussions bring out underlying tensions and resentment in society.  Parliament can emerge as a legitimate area for power struggles for crystallization of political activity or for acting out conflicting roles and interest.

 e)                 Developmental: South Asia experiences a diversity in the patterns of social, economic, industrial, political, cultural and other areas of development.  Here the Parliament can act as an agency for ensuring that the impetus stays and also as a channel for communication that would ensure free flow of information across the subcontinent.  The facility to get authentic information is crucial to development and social change.

Committees:  the present technical committees would continue as ten functional committees.  They would include the following areas: (a) Agriculture (b) Health and Population Activities (c) Meteorology (d) Postal Services (e) Prevention of Drug Trafficking and Abuse (f) Rural Development (g) Sports, Art and Culture (h) Science and Technology (i) Telecommunications (j) Transport (k) Women in Development.

All these committees are already active in their areas.  The membership would have to be restructured to include members of Parliament and experts in equal number.  Besides these committees the following two committees may be created; (a) Security Coordination Committee and (b) Economic Affairs Committee.  The Security Coordination Committee would be entrusted with the coordination of internal and external threat related issues.  Items under the Convention on Terrorism would be included in the activity of this committee.  The committee can also plan for confidence–building measures in the defence sector.  These may include grater exchange of information, on-site inspection and joint exercises.  This would have to be a high powered committee, with membership drawn from all countries.

The Economic Affairs Committee:  The Male Summit focused on economic affairs.  It took the decision to extend cooperation to some economic areas and prepare a strategy to mobilise regional resources. This committee would have to look at the economic agenda from a more cooperative framework and prepare strategies for regional development.  It would be almost like a planning commission for the region.

The SAARC Parliament and Foreign Policy 

The global countdown for the formation of trade blocs has started.  The Maastricht Treaty started the process in Europe.  NAFTA, created in 1993 has the target date for free trade set for 2009.  Its first phase has already started in 1994.  Other American groupings like Mercosur and the Andean Pact have targeted 1995, and APEC has set the date as 2020.  It is for SAARC to hasten the process of SAPTA to achieve greater economic cooperation and formulate timetables that can be adhered to.

International economic integration has a rather short history.  In the 1950s the term had come to mean a process of combination of separate economies in larger economic regions.  Today the term has come to mean the formation of regional blocs.

Integration appears to be the inevitable course for regional organisations today.  The political implications of economic integration would mean the loss of sovereignty for national governments.  Economic integration with a harmonised monetary policy will encompass all aspects of commerce and public welfare, it will also dilute national sovereignty.  Therefore economic integration will only be possible if political willingness exists.  The SAARC New Delhi Summit appears to have accepted this goal.

The process of European integration gave us two lessons: one that popular participation in this process is a primary requirement and two, the need to address the question of minority rights.  In Europe popular acceptance for the process of integration came in the phase of post-materialism.  In South Asia, the question will not be material prosperity as in post modernist Europe, but the question of the very survival of the state system.  Here the popular acceptance for co-operation would have to be based on the advantages of economies of scale that the process can offer so as to enable the nations of the region to address the problems of poverty and deprivation.  Herein would come the developmental approach to the problem at hand.

It has been observed that the greater the degree of integration the greater the alienation amongst the minorities.  It is here that South Asia would have to address itself to the concept of territorial democracy.  The international dimension of territorial democracy focuses on the democratisation of interstate relations.  In the context of South Asia India would have to ensure that in the SAARC format India does not emerge as a hegemonic power but a power that accommodates legitimate interests / concerns of the participative states (in a democratic norm pattern).     

Conceptual and empirical evidence suggest that there is a common social morality in South Asia which can help in containing instability and conflict if ideological and political impediments are lowered and there is a freer flow of ideas and information across the subcontinent.  The SAARC Parliament can help bring into prominence regional problems and also give voice to different interests which feel stifled in the existing circumstances of centralised political control.  A regional legislature has greater settlement of social and ethnic conflicts since it can take advantage of a larger vision that encompasses chauvinism, which devalues objective criteria when explosive national impulses are evoked on the floor of a national legislature.

The political implications of South Asian regionalism provide an opportunity for regional peace and security which must not be lost.  The setting up of a SAARC Parliament will contribute to the building of regional confidence and would help political elites in South Asian Countries to adapt the Helsinki process in Europe to regional requirements for the sub-continent.

The use of confidence building measures as a technique for crisis resolution needs to be further studied.  Modern day communications technology can be used with effectiveness to break barriers and establish popular level contact to ensure reduction of tensions.

The setting up of a SAARC Parliament may not register immediate success against nationalist and divisive appeals.  It will, however, add prestige and leverage to efforts to strengthen the foundations of South Asia as a peaceful community.  A strategy of integration requires norms of regional behaviour and regular and continuous interactions of members of the South Asian Parliament will help in the institutionalising of legislative norms which in turn will help strengthen SAARC’s viability in the long run.

It remains a question whether the SAARC Parliament will be capable of promoting concrete measures for regional peace and security.  It is, however, more likely to be outward looking than the existing national legislatures.

Finally, the SAARC Parliament should help to fortify regionalism and multilateralism and through rational and open discourse work for the reduction of military budgets so that military expenditures can be reallocated for the purposes of socio-economic development.

In the long run the countries of South Asia would have to search for these common concerns to forge a common approach to the process of modernisation and development.  Cooperation is inevitable for the alternatives threaten the very survival of the system.

It is rather difficult to find a way out of the situation in which the South Asian countries are placed in view of the concerns relating to military security, and other negative aspects of systemic antagonisms which have intensified in the last four decades.  In spite of many shared attitudes, the governments of the Subcontinent are little predisposed to foreign policy coordination which could give the region some semblance of cohesion in the eyes of the international community.  India and Pakistan especially remain very suspicious and disdainful of each other even through there is the ominous nuclear factor in the politico-military environment conditioning their relationship.

A high priority effort is needed in the region to address the root causes of instability and to work simultaneously for the prevention of domestic conflicts spreading across borders and for restraining inter-state conflicts.  Archaic conceptualisations of security can only worsen the prospects for peace, while inter-state competition would be complicated by a deadly combination of ethnic fragmentation and militarism.

A regional parliament is a mechanism which can domesticise and internalize some activities which have hitherto been in strictly foreign policy parameters.  Thus although the European Parliament’s powers in international relations are by and large “declaratory”, the framework of the regional legislature and the political behaviour of the MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) reflects a stake in increasingly cooperative policies.  On issues like Terrorism the European Parliament has undoubtedly helped to galvanise the social consensus and articulate and organise the political space in a way that would not be possible in a centralised nation-state legislature.  The cross-fertilisation in the SAARC Parliament would hopefully develop catalytic roles for influential individuals, political groups and parties for common security thinking, for measures similar to the single European Act of 1987 and concepts corresponding to the European Economic Space “1992”.

Will debate in the SAARC Parliament strengthen the scope for the realisation of “civil power” in regional peace-building and conflict resolution? Would a new political discourse encourage constructive interactions for reducing high defence budgets?  Would the agenda setting in the SAARC Parliament encourage environmental organisations, business corporations and ethnic groups to adopt integrative approaches to conflict management?

It is sensible to be sceptical about dogmatic answers to these questions, but there are good reasons for optimism for the success of a SAARC Parliament, properly designed, introducing a cooperative psychological environment and balancing mechanisms to mitigate rivalry and hostility which has characterised South Asia in the foreign policy sphere.

An agenda for the future in the foreign policy domain should include some of the dilemmas which are causing grave concern in South Asia.  The SAARC Parliament can ensure a high profile to the following issues to begin with by constituting committees on the following five subjects:

 1.         Nuclearisation:  The SAARC Parliament can help in developing alternative conceptual frameworks which build on Pakistan and India’s accord not to attack each other’s nuclear installations, and help to develop guiding principles for controlling the nuclear danger, including nuclear terrorism. 

 2.         Confidence Building Measures:  the regional legislature could use its cooperative legislative power to encourage regional consensus development of common security, non-offensive defence and regional peacekeeping.

 3.         Environmental protection:  The role and responsibility for ecological security of the region cannot be discharged through verbal battles.  A regional feeling for ecological security cannot be created except through open discussion and a desire to share the burden of common concerns.  One of the most important contributions of the SAARC Parliament would be to manage and conciliate tensions and conflicts over environmental issues which are leading to confrontation and violence in South Asia.

 4.         Humanitarian Issues:  Several factors affect the ability of states to promote human rights and other humanitarian issues.  One of the functions of a regional parliament is to be ever vigilant on human rights issues and to establish and propagate the goal of humanitarian cooperation at all levels in the region.

 5.         Globalisation of the international economy:  The problems faced by each country in its policy making process over the participation in the world market economy have created acute problems of declining autonomy over economic policy.  The regional parliament needs to focus on the ways in which new regional economic orientations can be institutionalised.

The setting up of the SAARC Parliament will be a bold breakaway from the current dismal pattern of deeply protracted conflicts in South Asia.  Needless to say in the sphere of external relations, the SAARC Parliament will help to identify those policy areas in which new choices can be exercised.  It will constitute a unique basis for feedback and reference for South Asia’s international relations and security questions, and over the years should contribute to economic progress and political stability in the region.

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