The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), appears to be dysfunctional and all dead for the largest period ever since its establishment in 1985. Though several postponement and cancellation of SAARC summits have happened before, it took nearly six years for the South Asian Heads of Governments to sit together under a single platform. NarendraModi, the Prime Minister of India, took charge and summoned a virtual SAARC conference regarding the COVID-19 crisis.
Ever since India has pulled out of the summit in 2016, the SAARC platform has gone silent. One of the main impacts caused by the weakening of SAARC was that it made easier for both the member countries and international agencies to deal with South Asia as a shattered group rather than a collective one. Moreover, India’s decision not to attend the meeting in 2016 due to the cross-border from Pakistan is still in place. Another important thing to be considered is that India’s issues with Pakistan revolve around terrorism, territorial claims, and a constant effort from Pakistan’s side to disable the platform by obstructing SAARC initiatives on connectivity and trade. Moreover, India’s refusal to Pakistan hosting the SAARC summit because of those problems and this is virtually handing Pakistan a ‘veto’ over the entire SAARC process.
The two most pressing challenges the Indian political leadership faced in 2020 were the novel coronavirus pandemic and China’s aggression at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). As most South Asian Countries are currently depending on China for imports ignoring India’s geographical proximity.
SAARC is the biggest regional platform in South Asia and thus, it is crucial to tackling common challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure that the region is ready to deal with future pandemics, there is a need to keep an open communication medium. Having a common platform and a regional strategy is quintessential for the distribution and further trials needed for vaccines and developing cold storage chains for the vast market that South Asia represents. However, India must look towards SAARC as a platform and look towards reviving it if events in 2020 are anything to go by.