The 18th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) will be hosted by the Nepalese Government in Kathmandu from November 22 to 27. The SAARC was formed in 1985 with seven member states, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In 2007, Afghanistan became its eighth member state.
The SAARC is the most populous regional grouping in the world, with a population of more than some 1.47 billion people. It is important to note that the majority of those living in SAARC countries are still poor and struggling to meet their basic needs on a day-to-day basis.
"The SAARC member states have been going through many internal, inter and intra-armed conflicts with non-state armed groups, inter-state armed conflicts and intra-state armed conflicts"
Since the inception of SAARC, people have asked whether it has brought any concrete solutions towards ending existing armed conflicts (within and outside member states), poverty reduction among member states and the overall strengthening of regional cooperation. The future of SAARC needs a paradigm shift if it is to become a more proactive and pragmatic organization in the region. The SAARC should encourage member states as a high priority to focus on disarmament linked to human security which is needed to benefit the overall socioeconomic development process and to make permanent peace among its member states.
The SAARC member states have been going through many internal, inter and intra-armed conflicts with non-state armed groups, inter-state armed conflicts and intra-state armed conflicts. Some of the intra armed conflicts within the borders of India and Pakistan still continue. In the recent past, most of the SAARC member-states faced numerous terrorist threats internally or externally or both. This had led the SAARC region to be on a high level of security alert. But, weapons such as Anti-Personal (AP) mines, Cluster bombs or Nuclear weapons will not help to overcome any of those existing armed conflicts or the elimination of terrorism in the SAARC region. On the contrary, such weapons will only help to kill or permanently disable civilians or cause mass destruction of humans for generations. What is more, is the threat of the use of nuclear weapons by the two nuclear states India and Pakistan which are not parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). But the other six member states of SAARC have acceded to the NPT and they are not nuclear weapon states.
"Banning such weapons will not undermine national security and may help in the elimination of terrorism from the SAARC member states. It will directly support and strengthen human security and overcome ongoing armed conflicts and terrorism by peaceful means"
The SAARC Charter mentions that in the spirit of consolidating democracy in South Asia, SAARC hereby commits to, “Adhere to the UN Charter and other international instruments to which Member States are parties.” With this commitment at each SAARC summit, it needs to review to what extent member states are acceding, ratifying and adhering to the norms of such important treaties and conventions on disarmament and arms control.
In this regard the treaties important for the member states of SAARC are, AP Mine Ban Convention (APMBC), Convention on Cluster Munition (CCM), Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). There should be a discussion on these matters at the 18th SAARC Summit and it needs to be continued at future SAARC Summits as well.
AP-mines and Cluster bombs are considered outlawed today and immoral to be used in wars because of their indiscriminate nature. Most of the victims of these two weapons are children, civilians, soldiers, aid workers and peacekeepers. AP-mines are still used by some member states of SAARC. According to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor (www.the-monitor.org) there are 162 State parties to the APMBC including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives who are SAARC member states. Weapons such as Cluster bombs were not used by any SAARC member state in recent years. Around the world, in recent history most of the responsible governments have not used such a brutal weapon.
Banning such weapons will not undermine national security and may help in the elimination of terrorism from the SAARC member states. It will directly support and strengthen human security and overcome ongoing armed conflicts and terrorism by peaceful means. More money can be spent on health and education rather than on weapons if they guarantee that such weapons will not be used by any responsible governments in future.
SAARC should set up an institute dedicated to the study and research on disarmament, development and peace. For the initial stage this can be affiliated to the existing South Asian University which was established by the SAARC member states in 2010 in Delhi, India. With this, students of member states would be able to study and research existing disarmament treaties, conventions and their practical aspects at undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Universities and institutes of SAARC member states should be able to offer at least disarmament and peace as a subject. Many member states and officials who represent the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, External Affairs or any others do not posses the necessary knowledge and understanding on disarmament to represent their respective countries at meetings such as those at the United Nations and other forums.
The writer is the Country Researcher Sri Lanka for Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor and a freelance researcher on socioeconomic development and disarmament. His latest publication is on “Commonwealth States on Disarmament and Development; A Socioeconomic Analysis.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org