South Asia is defined in both geographical and ethno-cultural terms. It consists of the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
South Asia holds great geopolitical importance and strategic location, flourishing democracy, etc.
Given the deepening polarization in the world, climate chaos, and the growing scarcity of resources, it is clear to see that the underpinnings of globalization over the past century are about to be upended, and nearly every other nation is finding its moorings in regionalization and forums closer home. However, South-Asia is yet to strengthen its regional cooperation as existing associations like South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) haven’t been able to significantly advance regional cooperation here.
This region has the following areas of strength making it extremely relevant:
- 1. The region is of strategic importance as it bridges the Indian Ocean to the Pacific in the East and the Mediterranean in the West.
- 2. Furthermore, this region has emerged as a vital intersection of maritime trade, connecting the countries’ producers of natural resources with the consumers states.
- 3. More than two thirds of global oil and over eighty percent of China’s and Japan’s oil is shipped through this region. Approximately fifty percent of global container shipments sail on these waters.
- 4. With a population that has a median age under 27, South Asia is the youngest region in Asia. Based on demographic trends, more than 150 million people in the region are expected to enter the labor market by 2030. A large and young workforce can be South Asia’s strength, if supported by a high-quality and job-rich growth strategy that leverages all sectors of the economy in a balanced way.
- 5. Terrorism: South Asian countries can cooperate against the developing chaos in Afghanistan, and countering extra-regional terror threats for South Asia. SAARC has a major role to play here.
- 6. South Asia energy grid: An integrated grid would attract investment, result in infrastructure creation, and strengthen sub-regional cooperation between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN grouping), and possibly Sri Lanka.
- 7. Regional cooperation in health security: India has worked bilaterally with most of its neighbours to provide vaccines and COVID-19 medicines. Another move may be to unilaterally extend copyright waivers on medical products within South Asia.
- 8. South Asian countries can benefit from India’s eco-blueprint by focusing on the protection of biodiversity and responding to the climate crisis. The linkage between effective governance and sustainable development also needs to be acknowledged in South Asian countries.
- 9. Regional food security is another area that South- Asia could take a major initiative in with an eye to the future – Increasing the capacity of the SAARC Food Bank that currently stands at less than 500,000 MT.
- 10. Leverage regional trade, connectivity and investment, and strengthen the South Asian Free Trade Agreement as a game-changer for the region. Galvanizing economic energies, which would lower barriers to intra-regional food trade and encourage regional supply chains.
Boosting regional trade, strengthening existing associations by delinking domestic sentiments from the economic rationale, engaging in diplomacy to allay concerns should be the way forward for South Asian countries which do have qualms about the integration.
Priority should be given to people-to-people connections and deep cultural affinities for sustained cordiality and stability. Further, focus should be given to prompt delivery of multilateral commitments for the overall development of the region.