Does SAARC justify peoples' aspirations?
The South Asian nations came together in 1983 for the purpose of promoting peace, stability; amity and progress in the region keeping in mind 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 all disputes. The leaders were aware about the common problems, interests and aspirations of the peoples of the South Asia and the need for joint action and enhanced cooperation within their respective political and economic systems and cultural traditions. The desires, consciousness, awareness and recognition were comprised of various aspects of every member nation’s peaceful settlement of all their disputes, maintaining meaningful cooperation within their respective political and economic systems and cultural traditions. The congregation of the respective leaders were convinced about the need of promoting the welfare and improving the quality of life of the peoples of the region and convicted to contribute significantly to national and collective self-reliance.
Those leaders placed on their objectives, various aspects of promoting the welfare of the peoples and to improve their quality of life through collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields while contributing to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems.
Principally, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is committed to base its respect for principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and mutual benefits.
If one has to post-mortem the historical events of the SAARC, the findings would end up with the conclusions that besides presentation of individual papers by heads of nations and deliberating on issues of India and Pakistan’s territorial concerns, peoples of other member nations have drastically failed to understand why their leaders failed to give social and economic benefits to their people in these past years. Even Indo-Pak dispute over their border disputes stand unresolved, Sri Lanka has not yet healed from their long internal conflicts sustained from Tamil Tigers. SAARC has not been able to help Maldives from the danger of sinking and submerging of their islands.
It was Nepal, the country that sustained more than thirty-five prime ministerial changes in the last 25 years about which none of the SAARC meetings ever deliberated on their issues even in their dark days of palace massacre.
Contrary to the provisions enshrined in the articles of the SAARC, none of the agendas addressed the despotic policies through the organs of language, religion and cultural values in Bhutan that manifested into the most rigid and draconian policies of the regime, who used all their available methods to discriminate diverse values of other ethnicities. Thereby, it made large population of its citizens face atrocious suppression in the hands of armed security forces making it difficult to continue living inside the country. Where thus would Bhutanese people have real happiness or strengthen economically and socially, when the country continued to prevail in a boiling stigma in the political and humanitarian front? Poor and yet combating the process of political change for democracy though, Nepal has been the only country to feel the pains of the people, who were overthrown by Bhutan as it implemented the rigid “one nation, one people” policy. The most discriminating policy of mass inhumane treatment of its own citizens, who had sacrificed their life, blood and perspirations in the nation building were thrown out of the territorial border lines in 1990s. The hapless population trying to finding safe haven next door were collaboratively thrown further out to Indo-Nepal border. The process of dumping the unwanted people in Bhutan were thus witnessed by India as the entire transportation took place in their soil at broad day light. After more than a decade and half, when the asylum seekers staged a peaceful rally on May 28-30, 2008 aspiring for repatriation at the Indo-Nepal border, India responded for the first time. It said that they were unaware of the presence of any Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.
Ever since then, the amount of pressure mounted on India for their help to restore people’s right to citizenship through repatriation is known only to the people who sustained the discriminatory policies of Bhutan and lived a refugee life in Nepal. Besides aiding Bhutan to arrest Bhutanese refugee leaders from Indian soil and handing over to Bhutan, India’s involvement in helping the people as Asia’s guardian of democracy practically failed to yield any fruitful or positive result at the political front.
The conviction of the SAARC nations to cooperate for the sake of mutual understanding, socio economic benefits and all those flowery promises carry no meaning if the member nations continue to suffer bitter life of political instability. Bhutan has been playing with the greater values of democracy and placing cosmetic advertisement of democratisation with the banner of Gross National Happiness subjugating the inner pains of Gross National Suffering. India as the closest neighbour and the principle guide to the worsening conditions of Bhutan has to be blamed for its failure to help save Bhutan from falling over the political cliffs.
It is obvious that the small countries like Bhutan and Nepal always look at India before passing any remarks or commenting on any issues that would pinch the Indian skin. Such compulsions are taken as India’s advantage to remain an upper hand to smaller nations, whereby the neighbouring victims of political atrocities continue suffering for justice and political stability.
It is thus concluded that the SAARC’s liabilities in the name of Standing Committee, Technical Committee and Action Committee besides administrative Secretariat are heavy burdens to the member nations that do not reap any worth mentioning benefits. I regard that the SAARC should not exist for the name sake as it only drains out huge resources, which could otherwise have benefitted the growing nations in the building of social strength through various empowerments and contributed substantially in the building of national economy.
(The writer is Vice-President of the Druk National Congress (Democratic) and is based at Kakarvitta, Jhapa. The opinions expressed in the article are just his personal, and without any reflection from APFAnews. )