At the 18th SAARC Summit, held in Kathmandu, Nepal, on 26 November 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi assessing the group’s accomplishments very frankly said, “As SAARC we have failed to move with the speed that our people expect and want. Nowhere in the world are collective efforts more urgent than in South Asia; and, nowhere else is it so modest.”
His concerns proved warranted as Pakistan blocked key proposals backed by India and other countries to integrate energy grids and free up road and rail movement, seen as crucial for improving cross-border trade, which remains minimal between SAARC countries. However, a breakthrough was achieved in the last hours of the summit after Pakistan agreed to sign a key agreement on energy. The other two agreements on road and railway networks in the South Asian region are expected to be cleared before the next SAARC Foreign Ministers’ meet.
In its 30 years, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has delivered negligible results for economic ties and development among its eight members—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Despite a free trade pact since 2006, South Asian nations conduct only 5 per cent of their total trade with each other, and there are few transport and power links among them.
Ultimately, all agree that cooperation between New Delhi and Islamabad is the key to the success of SAARC. And, that is not happening any time soon.