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Keshab Giri: SAARC success depends on smaller states’ commitment and external co-operation

14:49 | 07.11.2014 | Analytic

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7 November 2014. PenzaNews. The 18th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that will take place in Nepal on November 26-27, 2014 must push the participating countries towards more active development, and the smaller states have the potential to play lead roles in this process, says Keshab Giri, staff writer for Journal of Turkish Weekly web-based media, in his article titled “Norm entrepreneurs of SAARC.”

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In his opinion, the current state of affairs makes it highly important for the summit to go beyond the facelift for the capital of Nepal and promises of prosperity from the states.

“Extra effort is due regarding the implementation and assessment of past pronouncements,” the journalist stresses.

At the same time, Keshab Giri thinks that smaller SAARC nations may help the mission of mutual well-being no less than India and Pakistan, the two larger powers in the region, if they become more active.

“The realist logic of international politics chillingly proposes that, as the Melian Dialogue surmises, ‘The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must’, but is this maxim still relevant and credible? Smaller, weaker nations of the world have time and again risen to the occasion to defy the veracity of this perception of power,” the author notes.

From his point of view, in modern world, soft power became much more effective than sheer force: because of this, vital positions in the second half of the 20th century were taken by the states that once were shunned by larger and stronger international players.

“Small states can be equally inventive and even leaders in agenda-setting on the issues of great concern to humanity by institutionalizing, promoting and sustaining standard global practices and codes of appropriate and responsible behaviour. Such states are known as ‘norm entrepreneurs’,” Keshab Giri explains.

Moreover, he says that Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) that laid down the blueprint for the European Union, as well as Norway that managed to bring together the Israeli government and Palestine Liberation Organization, are perfect examples of norm entrepreneurs.

“One cannot help but marvel at Norway, which, with its path-setting peace diplomacy constituted by a combination of extraordinary activism and circumspect and innovative diplomatic methods, negotiated the Oslo Accords,” the author stresses.

Keshab Giri believes that the successes of “flexible” European diplomacy in the second half of the 20th century should become an model of policy-making for the smaller SAARC countries and an example that might does not always make right.

According to him, it were these norm entrepreneurs armed with soft power who inserted and propagated the current standards of well-being an social security in the civilized world, and helped the USSR and the USA to establish contact with each other during the Cold War.
At the same time, according to the journalist, successful examples of “norm entrepreneurship” already exist in South Asia. Among other things, the author points out the unofficial Gross National Happiness philosophy adopted in Bhutan, which facilitated the country’s economic and technological development while being sensible from ecological, cultural and spiritual points of view. Another fact worth the mention, according to him, is Grameen microfinance bank in Bangladesh that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for assisting the poor.

According to Keshab Giri, SAARC came into fruition because of Bangladesh and Nepal, two smaller countries of the region, while India and Pakistan, larger national players and eternal rivals, were unwilling to support this idea from the start. Islamabad viewed the association as an attempt from his opponent to obtain even more power, while New Delhi saw threat in the union of smaller nations.

“The very creation and existence of SAARC bears testament to the vision, creativity, and proactive and delicate diplomatic maneuvering of small states in the South Asia region that work towards the creation of a salubrious neighborhood, existing in peace, security, and harmony,” the author states.

However, as Keshab Giri writes, now is the time for decisive action, and Nepal, this year’s host of the summit, must play a crucial part in forming the political agenda that reflects the interests of South-Asian region as a whole.

In his opinion, it would be a wise step for SAARC countries to involve and engage other international players, such as the EU, ASEAN, China, US, Japan and beyond.

“This would not only facilitate the cross-fertilization of success based on experience, expertise, and technical know-how, but also provide much needed financial support,” the journalist stresses, while mentioning already existing and working co-operation programs with Canada and South Korea.

At the same time, Keshab Giri suggests expanding involvement of SAARC in diplomatic missions abroad, and inculcate the peoples of South Asia with an idea of a common national identity.

“The idea of regional identity has still not permeated to the common masses and people to people contact remains minimal at best, if not completely absent. […] Unlike other regional organizations such as the EU and ASEAN, we have neither a flag, an anthem, nor a motto. Such symbols play an important role in cultivating the regional identity that is so crucial for the effectiveness and longevity of such organizations,” he thinks.

However, according to the author, the most important task for the upcoming summit is to wake up the smaller states for regional and transnational activity, and the politicians of larger countries must realize this in order to achieve mutual well-being, peace and stability in South Asia.

“[Indian PM] Narendra Modi has wasted no time in showing perceptible willingness and giving decisive priority to the improvement of relations with India’s neighbors […] Much will depend on how bilateral relations develop between the arch-rivals of India and Pakistan. Modi’s rhetoric will only gain a breath of life when he proves that he is not only able to lead but, more importantly, also willing to follow other six small countries of SAARC have to say,” Keshab Giri concludes.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic and geopolitical organization with headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was established on December 8, 1985, by India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The official aim of the Association is to ensure social and economic co-operation between its members, and facilitate socio-cultural development in the region.

Eight countries, including China, Japan and the USA, and the European Union were granted observer status by the organization. In 2014, Russia along with Turkey applied for observer status membership of SAARC. 

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