South Asia

The Withering SAARC

By Lal Khan

Thirty years since its inception, another South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit has ended in abject failure. Frosty ties between India and Pakistan clouded the summit. Millions have been squandered to keep this futile and deceptive alliance intact. The SAARC region hosts 23 percent of the world’s population and almost 44 percent of its poverty.

The final outcome of the summit was reported by India’s NDTV in these words: “The summit erupted in applause when PM Modi and Nawaz Sharif shook hands at the closing of the event, their smiles contrasting sharply with their demeanour a day ago, when they ignored each other. Apart from the India-Pak handshake, little else has been achieved at the SAARC summit — a deal clinched at the last minute to create a regional grid was the face-saver. Earlier on Wednesday, Narindra Modi, playing ‘Mr Frank’ confessed that SAARC evoked cynicism and scepticism, and commented on the lack of connectivity in the region. ‘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.’” There are few places in the world where elite leaders and politics are so deceptive, hypocritical, merciless and callous.

A Reuters report on the first day of the summit observed, “In its 30 years, SAARC has delivered negligible results for economic ties and development among its members: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.” Upon a closer look at these countries, it becomes quite evident that the vast majority of the population in these societies are in the throes of turbulence, violence, hunger, poverty, disease and extreme deprivation.

Afghanistan is under imperialist invasion. It is being ripped apart by resurging Islamic fundamentalist terror funded by the drug trade and has become a country with a narco-economy dominated by warlords and drug barons, with society enmeshed in crime, oppression of women and shadows of barbarism imperilling its future. In Bangladesh, the exploitation of the workers is at unheard of levels and the country has faced more general strikes than perhaps any other country in the last few years. The Islamic fundamentalist menace haunts it and the western imperialist plunder and exploitation by the local capitalists of its labour goes on unabated. Deep in society a seething hatred is building up underneath the surface. Bhutan is an irrelevant landlocked mini-state, a kingdom that is merely a satellite of India.

The largest democracy in the world, India, also hosts the largest amount of human poverty in the world. Its democratic disguise tries to conceal the preposterous living conditions of more than 80 percent of its population. The present regime of neoliberal Hindu fundamentalists says much about its secular credentials. Its imperialist designs in the region are not only expressed in its belligerence against Pakistan, but this reactionary Indian ruling class also severely oppresses nationalities from Kashmir to Assam. The fact that Delhi has been dubbed the “rape capital of the world” sheds more than a little light on the conditions facing women in India.

Maldives is an isolated island rather than being much of a country. It is manipulated by imperialist states. It has a small population, is a tourist resort and is of some strategic maritime importance. Nepal has recently come out of a prolonged insurgency that ended up with the Maoist leaders being transformed from guerrilla fighters to being part of the bourgeois democratic set up, and initially even accepting the bigoted monarchy that had declared Nepal as the only Hindu state in the world. Poverty and misery stalk this Himalayan state, with the masses bewildered and in agony.

Pakistan, in its short and chequered history, has been dominated by military dictatorships. Its economy is crumbling and the Nawaz Sharif regime is threatened by political turmoil and judicial activism. Its disastrous neoliberal policies are wreaking havoc on the oppressed classes. The country is scarred by terrorist bombings, extortionist murders and insurgencies shedding blood across wide swathes of this forsaken land. Life for the oppressed classes, nationalities, women, religious minorities and the teeming millions has become a living hell. As in India, the Pakistani military establishment thrives off the state exchequer on the basis of enmity with its neighbours. The ruling class is corrupt, reactionary, and loots the state along with squeezing the blood and tears of the toiling classes.

Sri Lanka has deteriorated with the passage of the years. The social, health, education and other reforms for the masses introduced by the left-wing regimes of the 1950s and 1960s are a thing of the past. The brutal genocide of the Tamils by the present regime has brought the peace of the graveyard. However, a crisis is brewing and there is an increasing resentment against the despotic rule and aggressive capitalist policies of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is now seeking a third term.

Looking at these leaders at the summit, one is reminded of their predecessors from the time of the end of direct imperialist rule and the bloody partition of the subcontinent. The British Raj had meticulously taught, prepared and nurtured these politicians of the local elite to prevent revolution and preserve capitalism in the subcontinent. However, one of the ardent architects of the Raj, the arch-reactionary English politician Winston Churchill ridiculed them: “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles. A day will come when even air and water will be taxed in India.”

If we look at the plight of the one and a half billion people of the subcontinent, it is clear the present rulers have proved this imperialist right. Certain sections of the bourgeoisie want to reform SAARC on the lines of the EU. Now even the EU is teetering due to the severe capitalist crisis. In the subcontinent, savage capitalism never stood a chance. It could not even manage to create viable nation states, never mind creating a peaceful, prosperous and united subcontinent. The ruling elites are tied to religious fundamentalists by a thousand threads and periodically whip up national chauvinism to crush class struggles. They breed on these hatreds. Only by overthrowing this system through a socialist revolution of workers in any main SAARC country can the process of the creation of a socialist federation of South Asia begin, obliterating the present frontiers of these artificially carved out states by imperialism. It is the only hope of prosperity, peace and decent human existence for the one fifth of mankind that inhabits this region.