Edited by Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Sridhar Khatri and Hans-Peter Brunner
Chapter 1: SAARC and Beyond: Civil Society and Regional Integration in South Asia
1. SAARC and beyond: civil society and regional integration in South Asia Navnita Chadha Behera INTRODUCTION South Asia is at a turning point. Powered by the dynamic growth of the Indian economy, it is the fastest-growing region in the world. South Asia can be propelled faster to find its rightful place in the world if its member states develop as an integrated economy. This would make South Asia the second-largest economy in the world after the People’s Republic of China (PRC), leaving behind even the United States.1 The stakes for regional economic integration are clearly high, and its prospects are bright. The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia has evolved in three broad phases. In 1978, the Committee for Studies on Cooperation in Development (CSCD), led by the erudite and visionary Tarlok Singh, first took this initiative.2 Long before the proposition of creating a regional organization for South Asian countries was floated at the official level, the CSCD was involved in conceptualizing the idea of a South Asian community, as well as spelling out its actual economic possibilities. The inter-governmental body of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was subsequently born in 1985.3 By “political choice”, SAARC avoided cooperation in the core economic areas of money, finance, trade and manufacturing.4 The inaction of the governments led civil society in South Asia to take the lead during the second phase, in the 1990s. This period spawned a wide range of non-official dialogues involving intellectuals, journalists, parliamentarians, environmental activists,...
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