SAARC and BIMSTEC responsible for fighting Covid Pandemic, have themselves been sacked


The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the South Asian and Southeast Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (BIMSTEC) have been hit by the Corona epidemic. 

There are many examples of regional organizations playing a role in fighting epidemics and health crises. The World Health Organization (WHO) always urges and encourages regional organizations to take initiatives against the epidemic.

The role played by the African Union in controlling the Ebola epidemic in West African countries in 2015-2016 was highly praised by the WHO. The role played by the African Union, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in controlling the corona epidemic is being praised around the world.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the South Asian and Southeast Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (BIMSTEC) have been hit by the Corona epidemic. 

Far from playing a regional role in corona control, the two organizations have even failed to hold their annual conferences. Even in the midst of an epidemic, organizations around the world are active through virtual media, but these organizations are completely inactive.

Deputy Executive Director of the Center for Foreign Affairs Studies Dr. Rupak Sapkota says that if SAARC and BIMSTEC were active, it would have been much easier to overcome the Corona crisis.

“There is a traditional kind of dialogue and co-operation against the Corona epidemic. The global leadership did not seem to be effective in this either, ‘he said.

Even under normal circumstances, these organizations were ineffective. In the 35 years since its inception, SAARC has not been able to do anything concrete except issue conferences and declarations.

 Organizations such as SAARC and BIMSTEC can range from purchasing emergency health supplies and vaccines to distributing them to member countries to mobilizing health workers. Experts say that SAARC can coordinate with Covax and large countries for vaccination. In addition, these organizations may take the initiative to provide health care.

An example of how a regional organization can work is the European Union. The European Union is making integrated efforts to control the corona through the ‘Team Europe’ concept.

 At the beginning of the epidemic, ‘Emergency Response’ and the distribution of health supplies, the team Europe is currently focused on vaccine distribution. It ranges from ensuring vaccinations for its member countries to teaching in middle- and low-income countries through WHO’s CoVAX initiative. 

While the expectation that SAARC can play a role similar to that of the European Union is not realistic, regional initiatives will go a long way in controlling the epidemic.

Former Ambassador Shambhuram Sinkhada says that the regional organization can easily work from formulating a vaccine policy on epidemics to preparing a ‘framework’ for vaccine distribution. He says, “However, since the institution itself is not effective, such theoretical things do not make much sense.”

There is a vision, the organization is inactive

The activities of SAARC and BIMSTEC have come to a standstill. The role that these organizations can play has been debated.

 Addressing a conference of SAARC health ministers in February this year amid the epidemic, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed that doctors and nurses from SAARC countries should be allowed to enter member countries without hindrance and that air ambulance services should be operated. 

If SAARC takes the initiative in this, when one country is in crisis, it can get the resources of other member countries.

With the onset of the epidemic last year, on March 15, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a discussion between SAARC heads of state and government. That discussion was supposed to revive SAARC, but that enthusiasm did not last long. Although SAARC announced the establishment of an emergency fund, no further progress was made. Meanwhile, SAARC foreign ministers and health ministers also held a virtual meeting, but the proposal could not move forward.

Former Ambassador Sinkhada says that SAARC and BIMSTEC are not active in any field at this time. He said, “Even if institutions are formed in this area, they will not be active.” 

According to Simkhada, regional institutions need three infrastructures to function: first, all member countries should be able to move towards the concept that their national interest is in the regional interest. Second, the structure of regional organizations (such as the secretariat) needs to be strengthened. 

Third, the leadership of the structure must also be very effective.

In a public program a few days ago, Prime Minister KP Oli had expressed the view that the SAARC should be concluded if not justified. Pointing out that India did not want to hold a SAARC conference on Pakistan’s Islamabad, Oli said that Nepal was ready to hold a conference in Kathmandu.

Not only SAARC, but also BIMSTEC is in the same situation. Although there have been some ministerial meetings between the Corona epidemics, there is no sign of the conference. The Corona epidemic was not discussed at the BIMSTEC ministerial meeting in April.

In the midst of the epidemic, virtual conferences of other regional organizations are taking place. Some even gathered. These conventions are moving forward with new projects. Among them are G7 and Shanghai Economic Corporation.

Deputy Executive Director of the Center for Foreign Affairs Studies Dr. Sapkota says that the existing regional mechanism has not been able to function due to the geopolitical conflict in the region and geographical nationalism. “Neither has there been an initiative to combat the epidemic by building a new plant,” he said. “It has become an unfortunate situation for South Asia, including China.”

The Corona epidemic did not weaken regional institutions. SAARC and BIMSTEC, on the other hand, have been hit harder since the onset of the epidemic. Though there is talk of holding a virtual BIMSTEC conference, the work has not progressed. It has been three years since the BIMSTEC conference.

Due to the India-Pakistan conflict, no summit has been held since 2014. 

The SAARC summit scheduled for 2016 in Pakistan has been postponed for the last time. Nepal has been expressing dissatisfaction with SAARC, especially India’s reluctance.

China’s attempt to connect with South Asian countries

In the midst of the Corona epidemic, China has put forward a proposal for cooperation with South Asian countries. In one year, it has proposed to set up a joint mechanism with Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to discuss the issue of collective response to the epidemic.

China, which has expanded its economic partnership with South Asian countries over the past decade, has also offered emergency storage of vaccines targeted in the region. Deputy Director Sapkota Kovid said that he wanted cooperation with South Asian countries including India.

“Beijing has proposed to set up a mechanism for the prevention, treatment and vaccination of cobwebs,” he said.